Science & Society

A prediction based on common sense and recent history. In light of Japan's struggle with the Fukushima "nuclear disaster" (Which was triggered by a enormous earthquake and tsunami) Germany has decided to close all nuclear plants by 2022.  Germany gets 25% of it's energy from nuclear power.  If the Germans actually shutter those plants and do not ramp up their reliance on coal due to environmental concerns they will experience a huge economic collapse by 2023 or not much latter. Greening the energy sector of the economy has been presented by Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, as a plan for economic prosperity. This sort of plan has failed everywhere it has been tried.  My reason for saying this is Iceland. 
What Angela Merkel said. 
Most of us seek out like-minded individuals who will reinforce our worldview. As I remind my students, we hold no beliefs we think are incorrect. After all, if we thought we were wrong, we wouldn't believe it. There's a reason that it can be hard for us to agree to disagree or live and let live, too. If I am certain I am right, and you disagree with me, then you must be wrong. 

Henry Ford - Quote: "History Is Bunk"

It isn't an urban myth: Henry Ford really did say: "History is bunk."

It is somewhat ironic that Henry Ford's words - "history is bunk" - are now a part of the historic record.  What is not clear from most writings about Henry Ford is the context in which he gave his views of history.  I hope to remedy that defect somewhat.

"Understanding Henry Ford is more than a puzzle; it is a pursuit."
The Detroit Saturday Night, cited by -
Henry A. Wise Wood, The New York Times, May 17, 1916
In defiance of recent efforts to institute mandatory health insurance in the U.S., even for otherwise healthy people, studies using similar current government programs like Medicare show that while Medicare spending varies greatly by geographic area, there is little to show for it by people who are in regions where spending is greater - the health outcomes for people who live in expensive geographic areas are no better than those who live in poor geographic areas.    Spending makes little difference.

As a result, Obama administration policymakers have considered limiting Medicare payments in high-cost areas to try and contain costs for nationalized health care for everyone, a move elderly groups are against.
Press conferneces-- are they relevant anymore?  Long a staple of science news, the idea of a massive real-world press conference, with news embargoed until the big event, is a heavily criticized and yet equally heavily used tool of science-generating organizations.  Do they have any utility in a real-time internet and social media world?

Charles Blue (American Institute of Physics media relations) and Dwayne Brown (NASA HQ Public Affairs) weigh in (from the DCSWA conference).  First Blue:

It's like using a lathe-- it's a very specialized tool.
The National Science Foundation is under some mainstream criticism due to budget and waste concerns highlighted by Senate watchdog Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma (see Shrimp On A Treadmill - The NSF Under Fire).

It's easy for the public and members of Congress to show faux outrage unless it is one of their pet projects but, in Coburn's defense, he goes after everyone, not just science; transportation spending waste, military spending waste, you name it and he has gone after it.    He is exactly the sort of financial 'watchdog' everyone says they want - unless he is watching their group.   

In a report sure to send left-wing science blogging into a tizzy, an analysis by Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D., Republican from Oklahoma (naturally, because Republicans hate science if they object to obscure studies that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars) says the NSF is spending money foolishly.

Constitutional Football

I'm not particularly interested in football - aka soccer.  Nor am I at all interested in what footballers get up to on or off the pitch.  However, I am greatly interested in the scientific study of that most peculiar human system know as law.

Our modern legal systems - especially the common law systems - can be traced back at least as far as Ancient Greece.  In a time when arguments in court were won by the best orators and when a finding of guilt or innocence had more to do with parentage and peer groups than scientific proofs, philosophers devised methods of logical argument as a counter to methods in rhetoric.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't like births outside expensive hospitals and recently issued a statement disapproving of the practice.   Regardless,  mothers, Caucasian at least, are not listening and a new analysis shows that home births, common throughout history but declining since 1990, jumped up again after 2004.  An increase of 20 percent.

28,357 home births occurred in 2008 - 0.67 percent of the approximately 4.2 million births in the United States, which may sound negligible but it is the highest reported proportion since 1990. This change was largely driven by a 28 percent increase in home births for white women, for whom more than 1 percent of all births now occur at home.
In the movies, aliens and evil empires want to kill us.  Despite their advanced technology, they end up landing ground troops to do so.  Worse, the forces of evil-- alien or human-- tend to be lousy shots.  How unrealistic is this?

1) Aliens who come to earth want to kill us.

This isn't unreasonable. "Hawking's Conclusion" is that aliens are hostile, "looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach".