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Saturday, July 25, 2009


I have previously blogged, extensively, about how X-Prizes for particular technological achievements, particularly those related to space, could promote progress.

Here is something similar in a field which, though I have blogged about it before, gets less coverage & is more important to most individual people than space - preventing aging.The Methuselah Mouse prize is a very good example of how to use such prices since actual profits to be made in extending the lives of mice are minimal but the possible crossover to humans when it has been achieved is unlimited. They also, having made awards, have a proven record of success.

The Mprize competition is an exciting and viable mid-term strategy to deliver on the Methuselah Foundation’s mission of extending healthy human life. It directly accelerates the development of revolutionary new life extension therapies by awarding two cash prizes: one to the research team that breaks the world record for the oldest-ever mouse; and one to the team that develops the most successful late-onset rejuvenation. Previous winners have already proven that healthy life can be extended; each new winner pushes the outer limits of healthy life back even further.

When asked how the Mprize will produce solutions to the diseases of aging, Methuselah Foundation CEO Dave Gobel says: "Human beings that work committedly to a common and beneficial goal are one of the most powerful forces in the known universe - I mean that. Given time, there is nothing that we can conceive of that we can't eventually achieve." This competitive research structure gathers together the widest array of resources and the broadest spectrum of biological techniques available, and the results provide ever more powerful evidence that we can greatly extend healthy lifespan.

The Mprize consists of two separate prize competitions:

The Longevity Prize, awarded to the research team that breaks the world record for the oldest-ever mouse (Mus musculus);
The Rejuvenation Prize, awarded for the best-ever late-onset intervention.
In the competition for the Longevity Prize, money is awarded to the producer of the world’s oldest-ever mouse. This is restricted to the species used in virtually all laboratory work, Mus musculus, but no other restrictions should be placed on the way in which the mouse's lifespan is extended, provided that the methods used maintain cognitive and physical wellbeing.

The Rejuvenation Prize rewards successful late-onset interventions performed on an aged mouse and has been instituted to satisfy two shortcomings of the Longevity Prize: first, it is of limited scientific value to focus on a single mouse (a statistical outlier); and second, it is very likely that interventions applied throughout life (as they are during Longevity Prize research) will always be ahead of those initiated late, and thus would have an ongoing advantage in a simple competition structure. Our most important end goal is not merely to extend life, but to promote the development of interventions that restore youthful physiology. By seeking interventions that are effective when initiated at a late age, this prize encourages scientific research that is most likely to benefit those reading these guidelines today.


A fund exists to provide the money for the Longevity and Rejuvenation prizes. This fund is open to contributions from anyone; donors can contribute to either or both prizes as they see fit. In addition, donors of amounts exceeding US$25,000 can choose to make their donation up front or as a pledge.

Longevity Prize

The Longevity Prize is won whenever the world record lifespan for a mouse of the species most commonly used in scientific work, Mus musculus, is exceeded.

The amount won by a winner of the Longevity Prize is in proportion to the size of the fund at that time, but also in proportion to the margin by which the previous record is broken. The precise formula is:

Previous record: X days
New record: X+Y days
Longevity Prize fund contains: $Z at noon GMT on day of death of record-breaker
Winner receives: $Z x (Y/(X+Y))

Thus, hypothetically, if the new record is twice the previous one, the winner receives half the fund. If the new record is 10% more than the old one, the winner receives 1/11 of the fund, and so on. The fund can thus never be exhausted, and the incentive to break the new record remains intact indefinitely. This is very different from a structure that specifies a particular mouse age at which the whole fund is awarded. We believe this to be a very important difference: public attention will be best engaged and maintained by a steady stream of record-breaking events that demonstrate how scientists are taking progressively better control of the aging process.

The developers of a record-breaking intervention will receive prize money every week from the point at which their oldest living mouse beat the previous record. The amount paid each week will be calculated as though their mouse had just died, and the total amount won so far by a living record-breaker will be prominently displayed on the Mprize web site.

Rejuvenation Prize

The Rejuvenation Prize is not awarded for the life extension of an individual mouse but for a published, peer-reviewed study. The study must satisfy the following criteria:
The treated and control groups must have consisted of at least 20 mice each.
The intervention must have commenced at an age at least half of the eventual mean age at death of the longest-lived 10% of the control group.
The treated mice must have been assessed for at least five different markers that change significantly with age in the controls, and there must be a statistically significant reversal in the trajectory of those five markers in the treated mice at some time after treatment began versus some time before it began. The experimenters select the comparison times, both before and after. It is acceptable for other markers to fail to show this reversal.
The record that the next winner must beat is the mean age at death of the longest-lived 10% of the treated group.

It is also worth pointing out that, once again, all the money has been put up by rich individuals. Government routinely spends billions on research which is wasted yet will not put up even millions for this. There is no reasonable doubt that for a small fraction of what what government currently spends on science they could get almost everything they are allegedly researching for. Indeed there is no doubt whatsoever that they would either get it or it would cost nothing since that is the nature of prizes. It strongly supports Pournelle's law that "the purpose of government spending is to pay government workers & their friends" & that any secondary purpose (what the money is officially supposed to be for) is a very insignificant consideration indeed.

It strikes me that if, as suggested, low gravity reduces aging then a future M-Prize winner might be connected to a previous X-Prize winner - now that is how science works.

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Friday, July 24, 2009


This, lifted from Wikipedia seemed appropriate considering the Speak your Branes site seems like politically correct herd instinct after a lobotomy. Indeed it has been fairly said on there that the whole point is to make fun of different ideas without having to discuss the facts at all & that I am a bit of a spoilsport by mentioning them.

Bandwagon effect,invented by Conal Sherry, also known as "cromo effect" and closely related to opportunism, is the observation that people often do and believe things because many other people do and believe the same things. The effect is often called herd instinct. People tend to follow the crowd without examining the merits of a particular thing. The bandwagon effect is the reason for the bandwagon fallacy's success.

The bandwagon effect is well-documented in behavioral psychology and has many applications. The general rule is that conduct or beliefs spread among people, as fads and trends clearly do, with "the probability of any individual adopting it increasing with the proportion who have already done so". As more people come to believe in something, others also "hop on the bandwagon" regardless of the underlying evidence. The tendency to follow the actions or beliefs of others can occur because individuals directly prefer to conform, or because individuals derive information from others. Both explanations have been used for evidence of conformity in psychological experiments. For example, social pressure has been used to explain Asch's conformity experiments, and information has been used to explain Sherif's autokinetic experiment.

...Cascades explain why behavior is fragile—people understand that they are based on very limited information. As a result, fads form easily but are also easily dislodged

...Bogus poll results presented to voters prior to the 1996 Republican primary clearly showed the bandwagon effect ... approximately 6% of the variance in the vote was explained in terms of the bogus polls.

The related article on conformism say:

Conformism holds that individuals and small groups do best by blending in with their surroundings and by doing nothing eccentric or out-of-the-ordinary in any way.

By definition, conformism presents the antithesis both of creativity and of innovative leadership, and hence opposes change and/or progress itself.

An example of the use of "consensus" rather than science is this letter from Canon Kenyon Wright. It is, of course, factually rubbish but the point is that he did not attempt to produce any facts preferring to rely on saying there is a bandwagon

The neo-conservative press and radio in the United States constantly confuse people there by presenting the arguments for and against as if there was some sort of balance to be struck. They ignore the fact that the vast majority of serious scientists now accept both the fact and the human causes of global warming, while those who claim otherwise seldom have any real authority and often are funded by groups with a vested interest in avoiding the implications of the reality.

The way government can use its power to manufacture a consensus was understood by the late Dr Goebbels too
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Fortunately for the state if most of the people get their only information on something, whether global warming or Yugoslavia, once their position has become established there are a lot people who will do & say almost anything not to accept their bandwagon is heading in the wrong direction. Here are previous articles on mobbing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


The Savannah, America's first nuclear powered ship

This is ripped off from Brian Wang's Next Big Future:
Air pollution from commercial shipping kills 60,000 people per year.

Converting all commercial ships to run on nuclear power would be economic even without considering carbon taxes or fees.

In 2000, there were 6800 container ships in the world. At the cold war peak the Soviets had or had almost built about 400 nuclear powered ships and the USA had over 200.

Factory mass produced small nuclear reactors like the one being developed by Hyperion Power Generation or variants of the pebble bed reactor being made in China or new liquid flouride thorium reactor proposals would all work for total nuclearizing commercial shipping. There would also be the benefit that the ships would need to rarely stop for refueling and in general could operate at faster speed.
I'm not certain about the air pollution deaths figure, having seen what nonsense has been claimed over passive smoking but since total nuclear deaths over the last 17 years have totaled 2 it is clearly a positive point.

Hyperion Power Generation is developing a new power source called the Hyperion Hydride Reactor, a sealed fission reactor that can supply power to a small community. Although the portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub, when it's hooked up to a steam turbine, the reactor can generate enough electricity to power a community of 25,000 homes for at least five years. As it is self-contained and involves no moving parts, the reactor doesn’t require a human operator and is considered "extremely safe". Some experts, however, are still questioning the logic of using even this relatively safe kind of nuclear energy. These experts are worried about the pollution created in the process of extracting the radioactive ore, and by the storage problems of the spent nuclear fuel (some "experts" can be relied on to oppose nuclear under all circumstances whatsoever) .

I am in 2 minds about the Hyperion generator. On the 1 hand it clearly can do what it says providing power cheaply, safely & reliably to communities at a lesser price than conventional systems. On the second hand it seems a complicated & expensive, [per kwh, way of generating power compared to more common 1 GW or 600 mw plants. This expense will be reduced by turning them out on a production line basis but mass production of a bigger reactor is almost equally possible. What I think we are seeing is a market niche for lots of small units which will not attract the level of political antagonism that conventional reactors do, added to the fact that, since they are bought ready for use there is less time for the nutters to camp on the doorstep. Nonetheless mass produced conventional sized reactors will have substantially lower engineering costs & in a world run sensibly that is what we would have. On the gripping hand perhaps this is the best we can get in this world.

In any case Brian is clearly right that if the equivalent of 10% of the world's shipping was once nuclear a far higher amount could be now. I do foresee some political problems with some of the sillier countries & cities banning them but then the great advantage they have over fixed sites is that they can choose to go where they are wanted. Since this would bring down the cost of international shipping it would also mean that the more Luddite countries & cities would lose trade which is, after all, their choice, but the effect of the choice would be immediate rather than paid by the next generation as our failure to replace current generators will be. An interesting side option is that as, particularly in Europe, we face the increasing likelihood of blackouts, such ship when in port, could hook up to the grid & sell their power at the local going rate.

The Russians are also going to mass produce floating nuclear power stations which can be bought for cities like this which will be in place in 2010. However at $336 for a 70mw generator (Westinghouse do a 1,000 mw for $1.2-$1.5 bn) it is clear that they could only be needed for places easily linked to a national grid if politics was preventing Westinghouse building.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The Scottish Parliament has unanimously voted to cut Scotland's CO2 release by 42% over the next 11 years. The killer on top of that is that they also intend to close our last 2 nuclear generators before that for Hunterston & shortly afterwards for Torness. How much does that total. Well here is our energy use: Inconveniently the government haven't mentioned what units this is in but fortunately it doesn't much matter because it is proportions not total amounts we are concerned with.

Total use in Scotland is currently 290.51 of which 239.9 is CO2 producing. Cut that to by 42% & we have 139.14. Adding the current renewables, mostly hydro, we get a147.55 which is 50.79% left. Theoretically by using more gas & it could be raised marginally, at a non-marginal cost & we are promised vast numbers of windmills whose power production is minimal, intermittent & very expensive. Moreover we simply don't have the teams, barges & indeed production capacity to produce enough to have more than a token effect on this. We are also promised carbon capture power plants but they don't exist now & even if they did there is no way all our generators could be rebuilt by 2020.

A 50% reduction in power use compounded over 11 years is a 6% reduction each year. Britain already gets $6.14 of GNP per kwh of electricity ($NEK) putting us at the top of developed countries over 10 million (among undeveloped ones Mexico, Turkey, Algeria, Nigeria, Peru, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Angola, Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & Sudan are the only other ones who have worse (better to Luddites) ratios & of those only Nigeria, Angola, Burma & Sudan have the doubled ratio which Scotland would have to have if it is hoped our GNP won't collapse. All of these are poor, corupt, dictatorial, failed states, with endemic civil strife where electricity is largely confined to the capital city and whose GNPs are artificially inflated by oil. Good company eh?

Incidentally Scotland's energy exports total 1468.34 all of which will presumably be burned somewhere, just over 10 times what we are going to "save" by destroying our economy. If we sanely wanted to win the War Against Fire (assuming sanity enters into it) we could just leave 10% of it in the ground.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I hadn't intended to do another Palin article so soon but she did this article in the Washington Post (which is pretty deep in the enemy heartland) which I want to do some fisking of because I think it says something about her policies & her tactics.

...America's unemployment rate recently hit its highest mark in more than 25 years and is expected to continue climbing. Worries are widespread that even when the economy finally rebounds, the recovery won't bring jobs. Our nation's debt is unsustainable, and the federal government's reach into the private sector is unprecedented. Now that is a degree of realism that no party & very few backbench politicians in Britain would dare say - i suspect the same in the US

Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges. So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be: This is a major problem in both Britain & America's media & entire political life. The entire fight between Brown & Bliar was about personality - there was barely a paper between them on policy, while in the US Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton & Obama all deliberately downplayed policies compared to personality. Considering that Palin is such a visible & to many people, attractive personality to focus on issues is quite remarkable - it will not win her media friends

I am deeply concerned about President Obama's cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.

American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy. This is perceptive indeed having read it I realise I had missed this, particularly the 19thC discovery of oil in America in my article in factors causing the US economy to overtake Great Britain's Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president's cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.

There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn't lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive! Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America's economy. Completely incompatible with cutting CO2 & the War on Fire - perhaps Vaclav Klaus calling Gore "insane" might be a heavier challenge but not much

Job losses are so certain under this new cap-and-tax plan that it includes a provision accommodating newly unemployed workers from the resulting dried-up energy sector, to the tune of $4.2 billion over eight years. So much for creating jobs. This must make her one of the few politicians to know, in detail, what the bill says, including those who passed it

In addition to immediately increasing unemployment in the energy sector, even more American jobs will be threatened by the rising cost of doing business under the cap-and-tax plan. For example, the cost of farming will certainly increase, driving down farm incomes while driving up grocery prices. The costs of manufacturing, warehousing and transportation will also increase.

The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics. This strikes me as her long term tactical plan - explain the facts of economics; explain how it could be done & let Obama starkly prove that big state regulation & pork barreling doesn't work - if there isn't a majority now for free enterprise there will be in 3 years; calling the Obamites "liberal" sets my teeth on edge since it accepts the Newspeak definition of "liberal" - in fact, like the US Constitution itself, Palin is, by the original & proper definition, a liberal but I can see why she & most other people, let this by

The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will "necessarily skyrocket." So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year. Our politicians are saying the same it is just that there is nobody, at least nobody the media will report, here saying that we can have falling energy prices if we stop stupid windmillery - the lack of a publicly reported alternative is very damaging to our society; I like the "eloquently"

Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, "poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity." This is a beautifully crafted line - it juxtaposes the poor with the ultra rich making Obama look like a front man for the money men & remember that compared to Buffett everybody is poor. I think it is slightly unfair to Buffett - the main people for whom Obama is fronting are Pelosi & Democratic Congresscritters, government bureaucrats & lawyers but tactically it is brilliant

We must move in a new direction. We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil. Just as important, we have more desire and ability to protect the environment than any foreign nation from which we purchase energy today. "ripe for economic growth" - once again she demonstrates she understands the importance of this - US growth at about 4% has been much closer to the world average of 5% than our 2.5% yet you hardly see any UK politician saying we can increase it; the "God created oil for the American people" also sets my teeth on edge but (a) that's just atheistic me, (b) if you believe in him he actually did (though he must have a wicked sense of humour promising the Israelis the bit of the Middle East with no oil) & (c) this is the sort of reference to God, apple pie & the electhood of their own voters all politicians have to do

...Many states have abundant coal, whose technology is continuously making it into a cleaner energy source. Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas, and every state can consider the possibility of nuclear energy. yet again she mentions nuclear - less brave politicians, even those who support it - avoid the subject

We have an important choice to make. Do we want to control our energy supply and its environmental impact? Or, do we want to outsource it to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia? Make no mistake: President Obama's plan will result in the latter. the fact that she lists the countries in that order, which is the reverse of their combustibles contribution, shows that she is thinking not just about energy but the US's long term economic capacity & competitiveness.

That she is writing this, in this paper, even before leaving office, shows she is most definitely not quitting. There are very few politicians who actually break the mould in a worthwhile way (Lee Kuan Yew, Deng, Putin, perhaps Klaus & Haughey) but I think Palin could be one. She is certainly the most interesting western politician active today.

Here is an article on how the media treated her. It is not a hagiography, severely criticising her over her preparedness for interviews & speaking kindly of Obama & even Biden & stopping short of saying the election result would have been different if the media had been honest. Nonetheless it is a devastating critique of the media & says, of the fact that they didn't mention that Biden lied & lied & lied & lied & lied & lied & lied & lied again in his debate with Palin; "Facts matter, the man said. But they didn't in 2008, not when it came to Joe Biden (our guy) against Sarah Palin (odd outsider). The ladies and gentlemen of the press were more interested in her hair, her glasses, her wardrobe, he accent, her sex life, her kids' sex lives, and her hunting habits than in whether her opponent knew anything about foreign policy, the Constitution of the United States, or the job he was running for. They still are. The relentlessly negative coverage of Palin goes on unabated -- she's the subject of a much-ballyhooed hatchet job in Vanity Fair this month"

And speaking of Vanity Fair here is something one of Jerry Pournelle's readers spotted which makes me think Obama may be smarter than previously thought because he recognises that Palin is smarter than him:

The exact quote is buried in the recent Vanity Fair hit piece: "At least one savvy politician-Barack Obama-believed Palin would never have time to get up to speed. He told his aides that it had taken him four months to learn how to be a national candidate, and added, "I don't care how talented she is, this is really a leap." "

Which can explain why she quit the Alaska Governorship & suggests that what faults she has shown (the unfriendly interviews, foreign policy) will be a breeze in 2012.

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Monday, July 20, 2009


A Dark Age is when you can't remember what used to be possible, not juts when you lack the capability to do it. We are not there yet & so long as not all nations are under the control of the eco-fascist crusaders I don't think humanity, as a whole, ever will be.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

THE FERMI PARADOX CUBED - The Craig Paradox #2

Nearly a month ago I asked the Fermi Question about the Multiverse. The question being that if the universe is full of inhabited beings why haven't we met the aliens?

The multiverse version that if there are an infinite number of parallel universes & it is possible, as the 2 slit experiment suggests, for information at the quantum level to cross over, why haven't we met ourselves?

One partial answer to Fermi is that other stars are so far away & light speed such an absolute limit that they can't get here.

The number of parallels being infinite any such bar on travel would have to be an infinite one. I therefore think that though the 2 slit experiment shows it possible to get limited amounts of information across it will forever be absolutely impossible to transfer anything much larger than a photon. No Captain Kirk meeting his Mirror Universe double, which considering the story is a good thing, but it may be possible for him to phone him someday.

I think there could usefully be experiments going on to see if the interference patterns of the 2 slit experiment can be altered. Note that if every decision taken is paralleled by a different one almost as soon as some experimenter starts doing such experiments his parallel will be doing something slightly different. That alone should affect the interference pattern though measuring any effect will be incredibly difficult. Nonetheless it would turn Multiverse theory from an unfalsified theory to an experimental science.

And I want to read the Piper & Heinlein books they wrote after they died in our alternate.


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