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Thursday, March 20, 2008


From an article in the Seattle Times courtesy of CCNet:

Here is a list of beliefs in the biomedical and climate sciences that must not be questioned if you're applying for a government grant:

• That global warming is caused by humans;

• That AIDS is caused by a virus;

• That radiation, cigarette smoke and other toxins are dangerous in proportion to their strength, no matter how small the dose;

• That heart disease is caused by saturated fats;

• That cancer is caused by mutations.

But much of science runs on government money. Some people find the stink of bias only in private money, and see government as free of it, but they are mistaken. Government likes certain beliefs. To get its money, you have to get the approval of the scientists it selects, and you are less likely to get it if they think your idea wrong.
I know nothing about heart disease or mutation but have blogged on these lines regarding the first 3. In all cases the actual evidence is zero, or with low level radiation the "official" LNT theory (linear no threshold) has been repeatedly proven to be statistically wrong.

The article continues with a 2005 quote:

"A half-century ago, breakthroughs were fairly common events in science," Pollack said in an interview. But who today are the equivalents of Linus Pauling in molecular biology, Jonas Salk in vaccines, Richard Feynman in physics, or James Watson and Francis Crick in the study of DNA? Said Pollack, "Where are the heroes of the past 30 years?"

James Watson has since been fired by Cold Harbour not for any failure in his work but for alluding, in an interview, to the undisputed fact that IQ tests in subsaharan Africa show average IQs of 70. The lecture he was due to give was canceled by the director of the British Science Museum not because it was untrue but because it goes "beyond the point of acceptable debate".
This shows that the article is, if anything, underestimating the degree of censorship in today's science & exactly how heroic those scientists who stand up for science against political censorship are.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Prime minister Gordon Brown has unveiled plans to deal with threats to national security including terrorism, climate change, disease and poverty.

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons today, Mr Brown said that the nature of threats faced by the people of Britain had changed "beyond all recognition".

As part of the National Security Strategy the national register of the risks should be made available to the public, the prime minister announced

Or to put it another way.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." Henry Louis Mencken

In a consumer age we are being given a long formal list of scare stories so that each purchaser may pic 'n mix their own.


Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, has died aged 90 in his adopted home of Sri Lanka, it was confirmed tonight (March 18th).

The visionary author of more than 70 books, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize after predicting the existence of satellites, was most famous for his short story "The Sentinel", which was expanded into the novel that was later adapted for Stanley Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Odyssey".

He was also credited with inventing the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality.

Clarke was the last surviving member of what was sometimes known as the "Big Three" of science fiction, alongside Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

He was responsible for the last time I was a religious believer. At about the age of 12 I read his short story The Star which reverses a great Christian myth to show how invalid the premise is. Being a contrary bugger even then I saw that the reverse premise was also unprovable & being rather to young & serious to see that Arthur wasn't insisting on the literal truth of the story either I immediately decided that a belief in the wonder of God was an equally good explanation. This lasted for all of 20 minutes.

Some of his predictions. Most of them either haven't happened or don't seem likely to. That doesn't mean he was wrong - in many of the cases it is clear reality has got it wrong & we could have done it:

2001 Jan. 1 The next millennium and century begin.

- Cassini spaceprobe (launched October 1997; arrives Saturn July
2000) begins exploration of the planet's moons and rings.

- Galileo probe (launched October 1989) continues surveying Jupiter
and its moons. Life beneath the ice-covered oceans of Europa
appears increasingly likely.

2002 The first commercial device producing clean, safe power by
low-temperature nuclear reactions goes on the market, heralding
the end of the Fossil-Fuel Age. Economic and geopolitical
earthquakes follow, and, for their discovery of so-called "Cold
Fusion" in 1989, Pons and Fleischmann receive the Nobel Prize for
Physics. P & F have clearly got some results though it may not actually be fusion, the shameful thing is that the effort has not been put into finding out

2003 The motor industry is given five years to replace all fuel-burning
engines by the new energy device.

- NASA's robot Mars Surveyor (carrying Lander and Rover) is

2004 The first (publicly admitted) human clone.

2005 The first sample launched back to Earth by Mars Surveyor.

- The Dalai Lama returns to Tibet.

2006 The world's last coal mine closed in India. the "environmentalist" Luddites have stopped this but the world could now be running on nuclear power

2007 NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope (successor to the Hubble)

- President Chandrika Kumaratunga gets the Nobel Prize for
restoring peace to Sri Lanka.

2008 On what would have been his 80th birthday, July 26, the film
director Stanley Kubrick, who made 2001: A Space Odyssey,
posthumously receives a special Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.

2009 A city in North Korea is devastated by the accidental explosion
of an A-bomb. After a brief debate in the U.N., all nuclear
weapons are destroyed.

2010 The first Quantum Generators (tapping space energy) are
developed. Available in portable and household units from a few
kilowatts upward, they can produce electricity indefinitely.
Central power stations close down; the age of pylons ends as grid
systems are dismantled. Cold fusion

- In spite of protests against "Big Brother" government, electronic
monitoring virtually removes professional criminals from society. Since Britain has the world's largest number of CCTV cameras & a lot of crime it seems there are enough amateurs to go round

2012 Aerospace-planes enter service. The history of space travel has
repeated that of aeronautics, although more slowly, because the
technical problems are so much greater. From Yuri Gagarin to
commercial space flight has taken twice as long as from the
Wright Brothers to the DC-3.

2014 Construction of Hilton Orbiter Hotel begins, by assembling and
converting the giant Shuttle tanks which had previously been
allowed to fall back to Earth.

2016 All existing currencies are abolished. The megawatt-hour becomes
the unit of exchange.

2017 December 16. On his 100th birthday, Sir Arthur Clarke is one of
the first guests in the Hilton Orbiter.

- China holds the first nationwide popular elections to its

2020 Artificial Intelligence (AI) reaches the human level. From now
onward there are two intelligent species on Planet Earth, one
evolving far more rapidly than biology would ever permit.
Interstellar probes carrying AIs are launched toward the nearer

2021 The first humans land on Mars, and have some unpleasant

2036 China overtakes the U.S. in gross national product to become the
world's largest economy.

2045 The totally self-contained, recycling, mobile home (envisaged
almost a century earlier by Buckminster Fuller) is perfected. Any
additional carbon needed for food synthesis is obtained by
extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

2047 Hong Kong celebrates its 50th year as an SAR by completely
eliminating border controls and barriers between itself and the
rest of China.

2051 Ground is broken on the moon for self-sustaining, robotized
colonies, where the elderly will survive longer, thanks to the
low lunar gravity.

2057 October 4. Centennial of Sputnik 1. The dawn of the space age is
celebrated by humans not only on Earth, but on the Moon, Mars,
Europa, Ganymede and Titan - and in orbit round Venus, Neptune
and Pluto.

2090 Large-scale burning of fossil fuels is resumed to replace the
carbon dioxide "mined" from the air and postpone the next Ice Age
by promoting global warming.

Copyright Arthur C. Clarke 1999

Monday, March 17, 2008


A quick haggle, a visit to the lawyers, and a bank is bought and rescued over a week-end in New York. That’s the way to do it. It makes the UK’s attempted private sector rescue of Northern Rock look ham fisted, long winded and ultimately unsuccessful in comparison.


Al Fin has had a number of articles recently about creating a massive bio-fuels industry by genetically modifying creatures to produce hydrocarbons.
Simple organisms can be genetically re-engineered to produce vaccines or octane-based fuels as waste, according to Venter.

Biofuel alternatives to oil are third-generation. The next step is life forms that feed on CO2 and give off fuel such as methane gas as waste, according to Venter.

This is not far future stuff but near term. Craig Venter is talking about being able to produce such organisms in 18 months. It is worth pointing out that Moore's Law (that computer capacity doubles every 18 months) seems also to be working in the GM industry & possibly nano-technology generally.

A possible instance of cross-fertilisation occurred to me. I have previously blogged about OTECs (Ocean Thermal Energy Converters which lift water from the deep ocean & use the heat differential to generate power) & the Aquarius floating island concept. The side effect of this is seafood. The deep water is literally nutrient heavy but because there was no light down there it couldn't be used. When brought to the surface it can be pumped into artificial ponds & used to grow blue-green algae in quite enormous quantities, doubling its mass in mere hours.

What struck me was that a genetically tailored version of algae which produces hydrocarbons (probably tailored to make petrol or candle wax) from water & the CO2 dissolved in seawater, using only sunlight & nutrients could produce a lot of oil. The main limitation looks like the amount of CO2 dissolved in the seawater which, since the Aquarius design works on pumping up 64,000 gallons a minute, means quite a lot of dissolved CO2.

A legal advantage is that, since Aquarius is placed in international waters, legal restrictions created by anti-GM activists would not be a major problem & it does seem to the the major break on GM technology worldwide. Indeed such islands would be uniquely suited to GM science of all sorts for this reason.

A disadvantage is that if the altered algae were to be able to compete in the open environment it would tend to do so. However a plant which mainly produces & releases hydrocarbons would be in a difficult position to compete with plants which mainly produce more plants. The way evolution works means that it would be in need of protection from normal plants in the same way chickens need protection from foxes rather than vice versa. The anti-GM activists need to ignore to promote their fearmongering but it remains true.

I see no reason why this would not work but either way the application of Moore's Law suggests a rosy future for GM & those nations that do not stifle it.

Update the amount of dissolved CO2 in water seems to be about 2,000 umol or 2 millionths of a mole per kg so even at 64,000 gallons a minute & bearing in mind dissolved carbonate in the water will add to the amount, still seems impracticably low. However i may be misunderstanding the figures since that would be only about 100th of the amount in CO2 in air.

IO got my initial figures wrong. It isn't 64,000 but 67,000 (x1.05) & not gallons but cubic feet (x7.48) & not per minute but per second (x60) so I underestimated by a factor of 470 (the island in the picture has 7 OTECs.

Thus the total amount of CO2 per year would be 0.000002 ratio of CO2 to water) x 67,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365 = 4.4 million cubic meters of liquid CO2 which is about 0.6 million barrels. This is very rough & assumes most CO2 would be taken from the water (I think this is correct because the square cube law means microbes have a very high surface area to their volume & can thus absorb easily) & the ratio of CO2 to oil.

This site C/o Chaos manor says that somebody is trying this without all the GMing & on desert land. If it is feasible there then it certainly will be at sea, where water is more available & using fully modified algae.

Via Jerry Pournelle
"During a 90 day continual production test, algae was being harvested at an average of one gram (dry weight) per liter. This equates to algae bio mass production of 276 tons of algae per acre per year. Achieving the same biomass production rate with an algal species having 50% lipids (oil) content would therefore deliver approximately 33,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year."

"As a comparative, food crop such as soy bean will typically produce some 48 gallons oil per acre per year and palm will produce approximately 630 gallons oil per acre per year. In addition, the Vertigro Bio Reactor System is a closed loop continuous production system that uses little water and may be built on non arable lands."

42 gallons to a barrel so 785 barrels per acre. 640 acres to a square mile means that an Otec with algae breeding ponds going out to a radius of 1 mile would produce [785 x 630 x 3.14] 1.5 million barrels a year worth about $200 million.

Rereading about the Aquarius Project I see that the island itself is meant to have a radius of 2.75 miles which means the 1 mile floating ponds beyond it would cover 20.4 square miles. That could produce 30 million barrels worth $4.2 billion annually! If Savage's costs are even close this is mega-profitable.

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