Archive for Science

Philae of Soul

You might think even a Europhobe like BTL would have a hard time finding fault with the European Space Agency’s succès fou landing on the comet.

O, ye of little faith.

Credit where it’s due: they got there. And the pictures were spectacular. But we already knew Europe made great cameras.

I’m even underwhelmed by the getting there. Scientists have already successfully rendezvoused with almost every celestial body they’ve aimed for, including asteroids and comets. If the Mayans and other ancient civilizations could predict eclipses, the movement of objects around the sun is rocket science, but only barely. It would have been a humiliation, in space exploration terms, to have missed.

But to done in by battery power—the bane of every cell phone user—seems lame to me. Fine, they thought recharging by solar power would be straightforward on a comet, and what are the odds that the lander would to rest in one of the few “shady” spots? Better than none, it turns out. The lander bounced from its intended site a few times before coming to rest where it did, and they had almost ability to move it once it landed. That’s leaving a lot to chance.

Where I think they ultimately failed was in imagination. They thought the comet would be vaguely spherical, therefore predictable.

They didn’t know it was shaped like a rubber ducky.

With cliffs, chasms, and crevasses.

Again, what are the odds? High enough, as it turned out.

The effort might also have been undone by the failure of the anchoring mechanism. You can’t very well drill into something if you have the weight of a feather. Newton’s Third Law of Motion is hardly cutting edge science. But that’s a mechanical failure. The failure I hold them responsible for is the failure to ask what’s the worst that could happen. And the failure to prepare for it. They got the easy things right (or the previously accomplished things), but when it came to what they didn’t know, they didn’t know sh*t.

Too harsh?

PS: And if the insinuation that science can get lost in its own modeling and lose sight of how things really are isn’t obvious enough to you, yes, I mean global warming.

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Settled Science Update

Ha! Made you look. Betcha thought I was talking about global warming.

I am, kinda:

The doubters have spoken.

A group of independent experts — who prodded authorities to release satellite data on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — says it thinks it knows the approximate location of the missing aircraft.

Five separate computer models all place the plane in a tight cluster of spots in the south Indian Ocean — hundreds of miles southwest of the previous search site.

“We recommend that the search for MH370 be focused in this area,” the group said in a statement late Tuesday.

Doubters, experts, computer models—it sounds like the global warming fracas, doesn’t it? We’re months removed from the original…event…and no closer to discovering what happened.

No, wait. We are closer. We’re closer because by trial and a whole lotta error, we’ve eliminated thousands of square miles. So these “experts” may be on to something. The plane may be where they say it is because it isn’t anywhere else.

The group believes that after the Boeing 777 circumnavigated Indonesia, for reasons that are still unknown, the plane traveled south at an average speed of 470 knots, probably at a consistent altitude and constant heading, Exner said. All five computer models developed by the experts place the aircraft in a “pretty tight cluster…plus or minus 50 miles of each other,” he said.

The plane and its 239 occupants vanished March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

In a blog post, group member Tim Farrar called the recommended search site “our best estimate — but not the only possible — location for a potential search.”

Give these experts credit: unlike the global warm mongers, they admit doubt. They confess uncertainty. They grant you that their theories are only educated guesses. My takeaway is that it’s still a big world out there, and it can still mess with us. If the missing plane doesn’t freak you out, look up the Yellowstone caldera. Gaia could snuff us out with Australia and Madagascar tied behind her back.

Keep a few virgins handy for emergency sacrifice. Borrowing from President Obama, if you don’t believe in an earth goddess, you think the moon is made of cheese.

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When the Banana Gets Soft, the Tough Get Going

Some look at the impending banana extinction and shrug:

The fruit is under assault again from a disease that threatens the popular variety that Americans slice into their cereal or slather with chocolate and whipped cream in their banana splits. But aside from its culinary delight, the banana is the eighth most important food crop in the world, and the fourth most important one for developing nations, where millions of people rely on the $8.9 billion industry for their livelihood.

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida. In 1989 Ploetz discovered a strain of Panama disease, called TR4, that may be growing into a serious threat to U.S. supplies of the fruit and Latin American producers.

“There’s nothing at this point that really keeps the fungus from spreading,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

Oh really?

A super-enriched banana genetically engineered to improve the lives of millions of people in Africa will soon have its first human trial, which will test its effect on vitamin A levels, Australian researchers said Monday.

The project plans to have the special banana varieties — enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A — growing in Uganda by 2020. …

“Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food,” said project leader Professor James Dale. …

“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000-700,000 children world-wide dying … each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,” he said.

The GMO bananas have been around for about 12 years, but the eco-activists wouldn’t let them go to market. What if one of those dead or blind children ate one? Thank goodness we saved twelve million children (about a million a year) from such a fate.

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It Depends on the Meaning of “Ice”

The Great Lakes are finally free of ice!

All of the Great Lakes including Lake Superior are now ice free. This marks the end to a 7 month stretch where the lakes were covered in at least one ice cube, which is the longest streaks since satellite records began back in the 70’s. June 7th became the official ice out date of the lake which also makes in the latest in the year ice has coated the water. There was still a third of the Lakes coated in ice the last week of April which was the largest amount of ice that late in the year, a trend that continued into June.

Wait… there appears to be a chunk of ice that’s still remaining across the southeastern portion of the lake, but that doesn’t appear to be part of the “official” ice cover measurement. Here is a satellite image taken Sunday afternoon that shows the iceberg type piece flowing along the southern edges of the lake.

Can we get a closer look?

There are still a number of smaller chunks of ice in some of the protected bay areas. The picture below shows ice in an area that the map above does not indicate any ice.

Lake Superior is still in the 30s, which means the land around it (downwind, anyway) is also cooler. And you know what else cold water creates?

Fog:

If he global warm mongers would just relax and enjoy nature in all its unpredictability, they might be less excitable.

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Sealed With a Kiss

Waste not, want not!

Blogger Susan Crockford reports on Polar Bear Science that she received an email on May 22 from Dag Vongraven, chairman of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group [PBSG], that an upcoming report on worldwide polar bear population would contain a footnote that some polar bear populations are simply best-guess estimates.

“As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic. Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000,” the footnote reads.

“It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand. It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated.”

The note goes on to say here are no “abundance estimates” for bears in the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and Russia.

Which is about the size of Rhode Island, right?

“Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy. Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”

Why should that stop anyone? Don’t you know how science works?

“Daniel B. Botkin, a world-renowned ecologist, is Professor (Emeritus), Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara, and President of The Center for The Study of The Environment, which provides independent, science-based analyses of complex environmental issues. The New York Times said his book, *Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the 21st Century* is considered by many ecologists to be the classic text of the [environmental] movement.” His Environmental Science, now in its Sixth Edition, was named 2004?s best textbook by the Textbook and Academic Authors Association.”

I have always attempted to maintain an objective, intellectually honest, scientific approach in the best tradition of scientific endeavor. I have, accordingly, been dismayed and disappointed in recent years that this subject has been converted into a political and ideological debate. I have colleagues on both sides of the debate and believe we should work together as scientists instead of arguing divisively about preconceived, emotionally based “positions.” I hope my testifying here will help lead to a calmer, more rational approach to dealing with not only climate change but also other major environmental problems. The IPCC 2014 report does not have this kind of rational discussion we should be having. I would like to tell you why.

To characterize where we are with this report and this issue, I would like to quote James R. Schlesinger, the first U.S. Energy Secretary, who said: “We have only two modes — complacency and panic.”—commenting on the country’s approach to energy (1977)

1. I want to state up front that we have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences. However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are not apocalyptic nor irreversible.

2. My biggest concern is that both the reports present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports are “scientific-sounding” rather than based on clearly settled facts or admitting their lack.

3. HAS IT BEEN WARMING? Yes, we have been living through a warming trend, no doubt about that. The rate of change we are experiencing is also not unprecedented, and the “mystery” of the warming “plateau” simply indicates the inherent complexity of our global biosphere. Change is normal, life on Earth is inherently risky; it always has been. The two reports, however, makes it seem that environmental change is apocalyptic and irreversible. It is not.

4. IS CLIMATE CHANGE VERY UNUSUAL? No, it has always undergone changes.

9. What I sought to learn was the overall take-away that the reports leave with a reader. I regret to say that I was left with the impression that the reports overestimate the danger from human-induced climate change and do not contribute to our ability to solve major environmental problems. I am afraid that an “agenda” permeates the reports, an implication that humans and our activity are necessarily bad and ought to be curtailed.

10. ARE THERE MAJOR PROBLEMS WITH THE REPORTS? Yes, in assumptions, use of data, and conclusions.

11. My biggest concern about the reports is that they present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports, in other words, are “scientific- sounding,” rather than clearly settled and based on indisputable facts.

In the parts I omitted, he says there is good science in the report. This is not among that good science:

Why measure the temperature? Why count the polar bears? We have models that do that!

Oops, wrong kind of model—but do you think she’d do any worse?

[T]he IPCC 2014 Terrestrial Ecosystem Report states that “there is medium confidence that rapid change in the Arctic is affecting its animals. For example, seven of 19 subpopulations of the polar bear are declining in number” citing in support of this an article by Vongraven and Richardson, 2011. That report states the contrary, that the “‘decline’ is an illusion.

In addition, I have sought the available counts of the 19 subpopulations. Of these, only three have been counted twice; the rest have been counted once. Thus no rate of changes in the populations can be determined.

The U. S. Marine Mammal Commission, charged with the conservation of this species, acknowledges “Accurate estimates of the current and historic sizes of polar bear stocks are difficult to obtain for several reasons–the species‘ inaccessible habitat, the movement of bears across international boundaries, and the costs of conducting surveys.”

No [bleep]! Who wants to traipse around the North Pole counting polar bears? (Count the number of legs and divide by four.) I’d rather roll on a polar bear rug with my climate model above.

Traitor Obama (if we are to believe half the Bergdahl story) is running hell for leather into the Global Warming fracas. May he wind up looking like the carcass in the picture, top (politically speaking, of course).

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Can You Swim?

You’d better learn.

Catastrophic collapse of Antarctic ice sheet now underway, say scientists

Put another way:

Irreversible collapse of Antarctic glaciers has begun, studies say

You think that’s scary?

Ice melt in part of Antarctica ‘appears unstoppable,’ NASA says

And that’s not all NASA says:

Glacial Region’s Melt Past ‘Point of No Return,’ NASA Says

Thank God we have the Washington Post:

NASA spots worrisome Antarctic ice sheet melt that could add 4 to 12 feet to current sea levels

We’ve already heard enough out of you, NASA—let’s hear from someone else:

West Antarctic glacial collapse: What you need to know

Finally, constructive advice:

Nothing distracts from blind panic better than a hot mom in a red bikini. Now can we talk sense?

The wailing today is that the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet has already begun.

It’s pretty bad when other environmental reporters start calling you out on it, such as NYT’s Andrew Revkin did today.

Awful misuse of “Collapse” in headlines on centuries-long ice loss in W. Antarctica. See rates in papers. Same as ’09

Buried below the headline in the article, there is agreement with Revkin:

But the researchers said that even though such a rise could not be stopped, it is still several centuries off, and potentially up to 1,000 years away.

A lot can happen in several centuries, why even in the last couple of years Antarctic has seen record levels on Antarctic sea ice.

Just tell yourself that the “irreversible” and “catastrophic” melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is as far removed from us as we are from Ethelred the Unready’s resumption of the throne of England after a year in exile in 1014. (But you already knew that.)

Once the ice starts melting, that is:

Antarctic sea ice has expanded to record levels for April, increasing by more than 110,000sq km a day last month to nine million square kilometres.

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre said the rapid expansion had continued into May and the seasonal cover was now bigger than the record “by a significant margin’’.

“This exceeds the past record for the satellite era by about 320,000sq km, which was set in April 2008,’’ the centre said.

So, Antarctic sea ice has topped the previous record by an area greater than the size of New Mexico. Feel better?

Here. Now?

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It’s Not Such a Small World After All

Not since Amelia Earhart has a plane just disappeared so spectacularly without a trace:

Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday that failure to find any clue in the most likely crash site of the lost Malaysia Airlines jet would not spell the end of the search, as officials planned soon to bring in more powerful sonar equipment that can delve deeper beneath the Indian Ocean.

The search coordination center said Wednesday a robotic submarine, the U.S. Navy’s Bluefin 21, had scanned more than 80 percent of the 310-square-kilometer (120-square-mile) seabed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. Nothing of interest had been found.

The 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) deep search area is a circle 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide around an area where sonar equipment picked up a signal on April 8 consistent with a plane’s black boxes. But the batteries powering those signals are now dead.

Defense Minister David Johnston said Australia was consulting with Malaysia, China and the United States on the next phase of the search for the plane that disappeared March 8, which is likely to be announced next week.

People are whispering again that the plane landed somewhere. Maybe it did. But then maybe a planet 70% covered by water, most of it miles deep, very little of that mapped…maybe the bitch-goddess Gaia can keep a secret.

UPDATE:

Wait!

Australian officials say an “object of interest” in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been found, but Malaysia authorities said it was too early to tell if it is a real lead.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan described the object as appearing to be sheet metal with rivets, and said it was recovered on the coast of Western Australia.

[S]o far, all of the objects found in the search have not been related to the missing plane.

Even the Australians expressed caution.

“The more we look at it, the less excited we get,” Dolan said.

Never mind.

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Land of Milk and Honey

God’s way of saying: Now that I have your attention…

Israel’s sky was covered Saturday with mammatus, also known in their popular name “breast clouds,” following the heat wave in the region.

Professor Hadas Saaroni, a climatologist from Tel Aviv University explained how these uniquely shaped clouds are formed.

“They get this shape when clouds are formed in an altitude of four kilometers. Under this higher layer of air there is air that is rather dry. When these clouds rain onto a dry layer, the rain instantly evaporates and the round shape of these clouds is formed.

“While most of the rain doesn’t make it to the ground because it evaporates on the way down, the rain that does penetrate through washes the dust that came in with the winds, and turns into mud-rain,” Saaroni explained.

What? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.

I read that the Arabs are rioting on the Temple Mount, and that Abbas is threatening to dissolve the laughably-named Palestinian Authority. Maybe this is the Divine’s way of calling them a bunch of boobs.

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Shut Up and Eat

Oh, the world is too crowded! Oh, people will starve! (Won’t one problem solve the other?) Oh, there’s nothing to be done!

Except grow more food:

Once home to his father’s hardscrabble cattle-and-crop farm, Stine has, without attracting any widespread notice, developed some of the most valuable agricultural products on Earth here. With more than 900 patents, Stine sells his coveted soybean and corn seed genetics to agri-giants like Monsanto and Syngenta, nabbing estimated annual sales of more than $1 billion with margins in excess of 10%. Along with his four children, Stine owns almost 100%.

Based in Adel, Iowa (pop. 4,000), the dozen or so companies under Stine’s umbrella form an unlikely titan at the heart of the market, directly or indirectly generating revenues from almost 50 million acres of crops in the U.S. each year.

Stine Seed does business with all of the heavyweights and has for more than three decades, primarily because it has something everybody else needs: the best-performing soybean seeds in the business. Through plant breeding, a roughly 10,000-year-old technique that’s not unlike creating Thoroughbred horses or show dogs, Stine has been perfecting the genetic makeup of soybean seeds–primarily used in animal feed and to produce vegetable oils–since the 1960s.

Today 60% of all U.S. soybean acreage is planted using genetics developed by Stine’s companies, which also have a strong presence in South America and other international markets. FORBES estimates that Stine’s company–which, among other things, also breeds corn genetics, creates plant traits in its biotech lab and has a small but growing commercial seed sales operation–is worth nearly $3 billion.

While rivals scoff, he now thinks he can double the world’s output of corn, the most popular crop on Earth. By breeding corn seeds genetically predisposed to thrive when planted in high densities, he thinks he can supercharge the engine generating animal feed, biofuels and food for the whole planet. “We’re going to be able to double corn yields very easily,” says Stine.

Stine flipped the conventional wisdom on its head. He began breeding corn to thrive at higher planting density: shorter plants with smaller tassels and more upright leaves that attract more sunlight. A leaner, more efficient plant. After breeding many descendants of the seeds with that genetic makeup, the company has developed corn that can be planted in much narrower rows–12 inches or even pairs of rows 8 inches apart–increasing the number of plants per acre to as much as 80,000. And, of ultimate importance, substantially increasing a farmer’s harvest.

Not everyone is convinced, but I wouldn’t bet against his record. Anyway, compare this small town, midwesterner with our bi-coastal commander in chief. The closest Obama has ever come to agriculture is to smoke two (or more?) of its products. His is the conventional ignorance (it’s hardly wisdom) that we’re cooking and stripping the earth of its resources. The left claims to love science, but creates the weirdest of boogiemen around GMO crops. Never mind that we’ve GMO-ed pretty much every edible plant and domesticated animal for millennia—just not in a lab—the application of science and technology to food production (aka farming) has them running for the hills. So, maybe they’ll never grow this corn in Iowa or Nebraska, but if they know what’s good for them, they’ll be growing it in Zimbabwe and other fertile nations of Africa.

Some people throw up their hands and wonder what will become of the world. Others put their hands to work and head out to the fields (or labs) to fill silos and tummies around the world. (And get filthy rich doing so!)

PS: My own garden is a smaller organic affair of heirloom tomatoes, cukes for pickling, string beans, and, in the perennial triumph of hope over experience, beets. But I can afford to d*ck around. If I get only two decent beets out of a row, I can just nip down to Whole Foods to buy more. Where does Africa go when their crop yields fall short?

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MostlyCloudy.gov

A website based on deceit and fraud, designed by the government, intended to sell you on a thoroughly discredited theory…do these guys never learn?

The Obama administration is launching a new online effort to warn the public about the dangers of climate change.

The White House is unveiling a new website Wednesday, climate.data.gov, that will let citizens, businesses and local governments take the latest scientific data and see how their communities will be affected by rising seas, heat waves and drought.

The website is part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to boost public support for his initiative to fight climate change.

It worked so well for health care!

Imagine if old pharaoh had had the internet at his disposal to let the citizens of ancient Egypt see how the plague of frogs would effect the kingdom from Memphis to Thebes. “The Romans just want to help the single-cubits. We want all folks to receive their fair share of manna.”

Because you rely on me, I clicked over to climate.data.gov (an Orwellian URL if there ever was one).

I sh*t you not:

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However stupid these people are, we folks are even stupider. Would ancient Egyptians have fallen for “If you like your first-born, you can keep your first-born”?

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Cure HIV? Ask Me How!

Who said the Muslim world hasn’t contributed to science in centuries (millennia)?

An Egyptian TV channel recently aired a report on an Egyptian military invention of the first device that cures the HIV and hepatitis C viruses.

Anchor: There have been many reactions to the publications in the media that the Egyptian Military Engineering Department has invented a device that produces electro-magnetic waves, which eliminate the hepatitis C virus within 10 days with no side effects. The device has a 100% success rate.

General Dr. Ibrahim ‘Abd Al-‘Aati, head of the team that invented the device: For this device, I was offered two billion dollars. I’m talking dollars! I was offered two billion dollars to forget about it, but I refused. I told them to write “an Arab Muslim Egyptian scientist discovered this.” But they said: “Forget about it. Just take the check, and we will fly you to any country in the world.” I said: “Why should I?” I fled back to Egypt. The Egyptian intelligence agency has protected me here. The intelligence nabbed me and brought me here.

Reporter: In 2010, the Egyptian military successfully invented a device that can identify a hepatitis C virus carrier in a crowd. Today, using the same methods, they have invented a treatment device. The patient’s blood passes through the device, which produces electro-magnetic waves that kill the virus, and turn it into amino acids.

D’oh! Why didn’t we think of that? Heckuva job, Anwar! Now, how about another machine that can turn malignant tumors into lime jello?

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Giving One’s Life for Science

These Antarctic explorers are the Marie Curies of our time:

The leader of a scientific expedition whose ship remains stranded in Antarctic ice says the team, which set out to prove climate change, is “stuck in our own experiment.”

But Chris Turney, a professor of climate change at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said it was “silly” to suggest he and 73 others aboard the MV Akademic Shokalskiy were trapped in ice they’d sought to prove had melted. He remained adamant that sea ice is melting, even as the boat remained trapped in frozen seas.

“Sea ice is disappearing due to climate change, but here ice is building up,” the Australasian Antarctic Expedition said in a statement.

“We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Yeah, Antarctica in summer! Not one but two ice cutters had to abort the mission to rescue your clueless asses. Even a helicopter is considered risky.

If you think I’m harsh:

“Cute how these Warmists who hate fossil fuels take a trip to the Antarctic to show just how horrible fossil-fueled climate change is, then need rescue from their fossil-fueled trip by other fossil-fueled ships and helicopters, which still can’t rescue them,” wrote one blogger on Pirate’s Cove.

The website Newsbusters said much of the media has bent over backward to avoid linking the ship’s current fate with its mission.

“Somewhere far, far to the south where it is summer, a group of global warming scientists are trapped in the Antarctic ice,” read a post on the site. “If you missed the irony of that situation, it is because much of the mainstream media has glossed over that rather inconvenient bit of hilarity.”

Turney‘s team is studying climate change, as well as how wildlife is adapting to it. He noted that numerous penguins have traipsed across the ice from the nearby mainland to curiously observe the explorers.

I’ll bet.

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