Monday, July 15, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Have an Opinion: The Outcome of the Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin Case

Please be warned there are going to be some aspects in this presentation that may make some  angry, upset or otherwise uncomfortable. If you are not mature enough to read on issue of race without reacting emotionally I suggest you pass on this article.

First I would like to begin with an I told you so. Those of you whom this is directed at Know who you are. For all the stories and caricatures and paintings of Zimmerman that were being portrayed I sided with him. In most cases when I make an opinion it was well informed, and, despite knowledge of who I am and how I think and operate, people got angry with me when I made this statement.  I would like to clear the air and actually present the evidence, as it was when the story broke and what we know now in regards to this case. I would also like to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate some of the critical thinking and logic skills I have been advocating as a means of stopping emotionalism in future cases.

George Zimmerman shot and killed a young 17 year old boy named Trayvon Martin.  While death of a youth, particularly from violent circumstances is tragic, this death was met with tremendous fanfare. Somehow an individuals death in Florida was turned into a national case.  The coverage of the case was so broad that the defense poorly joked that the jury was selected by simply responding: Zimmerman who? during preliminary selection.  While this was a perfect example of the media attempting a trial by popular opinion, this article is not about some of the challenges a 24 hour news cycle and politicized broadcasts bring to our legal system.

For those on the left this appeared to be some sick gift. The narrative was racial prejudice, vigilantism, and the problem with the second amendment.  A black kid shot by a white neighborhood watch-man. There were so many boxes checked off by the preliminary information it was too good to be true,  a sense of validation for the superiority of democratic ideology. It was too perfect.

No really it was too perfect and that's what set off my Bullshit -o-meter. We weren't hearing forensic reports, medical logs, officers views or witness testimony. We heard a single damn 911 call from moments before, as if that somehow explained anything everything.  That's literally all the evidence the media had and they ran with it.

First there was the NBC edit of the call, and oh ya maybe it was a bit racially inflammatory.

Then of course we were treated to these pictures of the evil shooter and innocent kid

From: the Blaze

How sweet and innocent, and look at that evil mugshot. The thing is the reality was more like this.

So my bullshit meter was in full swing. If there is one thing I hate its when people try to use pictures of children to promote some sort of stance. Literally I will hunt down and unmercifully destroy anyone who does so. This is truly an automatic red flag for bullshit, above all else. I have said it before and will say it again emotional arguments and images are used as a means of obfuscating the fundamental lack of support for your claims. People are dumb they fall for it every time. Boy did people fall for it this time.

The first elements of racism came up claiming he shot Trayvon because he was black. The NBC edit of the police tape was part of that driving force, the rallies and protests were the other part. Race baiting and the race card, are rarely used now.  However this is also an automatic bullshit-o-meter to the max instinctual disbelief.  Let me be clear, I have met 1 racist, not two or three or four  but one person who literally looked at someone and was inherently afraid of them. This incident occurred in a Target store in Boulder Colorado, some woman was afraid to ask some guy a question and instead tried to solicit help from me because he wasnt white. Frankly I have no idea what nationality he was from, I really have a hard time discerning the subtle differences in pigmentation and facial structure  I attribute that to Aspergers, I happily ignored the woman and let her suffer from her own bigotry

The reality is interracial homicide is rare, incredibly rare, so trying to play the interracial crime card was essentially a third giant flag of bullshit for me. I have actually looked at the statistics, The amount of white on black homicide is almost half of the black on white crime. While black-black crime is almost tied with white-white crime that racial subgroup exists at only 12% of the population compared with 72% for whites.  On a racial population basis black-black homicide is represented almost 6x more than the percentage of the population.  black-white crime with actual percentages being about double black-white crime  mean that interracial crime occurs from black-white at almost 12x the reverse.  Somehow I doubt the media was attempting to start a discussion on how rare such a homicide was.

Source: FBI data,

This also ignored the Zimmermans actual history.  The man lived in a neighborhood which was 20% black. He and his wife were tutoring a few black kids after the state had pulled the funding for them.  He was also behind a campaign seeking justice for the shooting of a black homeless man by a Sanford police officer. Oh ya and he was Hispanic. It clearly wasnt a white guy shooting a black guy and there is no possible way that race had motivated his actions. End of story.

Then there was some sort of attempt to paint Zimmerman as a wannabe cop, carrying a gun and hunting down the poor scared little boy with skittles.  The reality is that neighborhood had several break-ins in the past year, and had actually asked Zimmerman to help with the neighborhood watch. That's why he was there, not because he is some renegade cop wannabe, he was asked to watch the neighborhood.  Maybe you have had to deal with police in these circumstances maybe not. The reality is response time, under the best of circumstances is 6-12 minutes and that's typically only for life threatening emergencies. In the case of a burglary or break in response time is on the order of 30+ minutes. A lot can happen in 30 minutes,  you don't know the people burglarizing, what they are armed with or how they will respond. In a neighborhood that was repeatedly being robbed, the presence of a neighborhood watch-man, armed with a gun is frankly prudent.

At the end of the few weeks or so of public outcry, after the portrayal of the child had fallen apart, after there was no evidence of racism, well he still got out of the car, and the police told him not to.  He was therefore somehow responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin. Guess what that was bullshit too. The statement of "we don't need you to do that sir" is not in any way authoritative, not even remotely.  It's a means of releasing the police department from liability.  If you saw a child who had fallen through the ice they would tell you the same damn thing. That's irrelevant however, because Zimmerman broke no laws.

The police cant tell you not to walk around a neighborhood, it is not illegal to follow someone or to talk to them. The idea that Zimmerman was somehow culpable because he got out of the car, and then got into a fight with Trayvon martin is a very special logical fallacy, its actually several. Logical fallacies are the difference in opinion and fact.

So what applicable fallacies can be held to the argument?
Well there is the fallacy of the single cause, post hoc ergo propter hoc, quite specifically the leaving of the truck results in the death of the youngster. There are several other factors that are ignored to draw that conclusion. The most important, Trayvon Martin started and continued the fight.

The problem with this idea that one event caused the inevitable consequence is it simply ignores every other variable in the equation.  If Trayvon wasnt ducking between houses in the rain, he wouldn't have looked suspicious. If there hadn't been burglaries on the street Zimmerman wouldn't have even been there. The reality we can play the what if game all day long and come to absolutely no conclusion. I'm sure everyone has an example in there life of what if they made a different choice what would be the outcome.

If I had chosen to take a left out of the driveway instead of a right, if I had chosen to seek the most probable path for my dog based on past behavior rather than expanding the search area using a radius/unit time search area, maybe Dozer wouldn't have been hit by a car. I can play that game too, my dog is still dead. It changes nothing about the fact that a driver was moving too fast to see an 85 lb, black and white husky, or the girl in a red coat waving her arms in the center of the road.

In much the same way, by engaging in absolutely 0 illegal or aggressive actions, George Zimmerman was forced into confrontation with Trayvon Martin. Through no fault of his own, Trayvon Martin decided to punch Zimmerman in the face and break his nose. Trayvon martin committed the first hostile action and the first crime. Even so Zimmerman didn't pull out his gun and shoot him then, he fell to the ground and Martin continued to punch him and bash his head on concrete, this is a felony called battery. Zimmerman still didn't pull his gun out, he called for help. We know all of this to be true from the physical evidence.

We know Zimmerman's nose was broken, we also know that his head was being bashed into the concrete.  Ya there are pictures.
source nydaily news

You see that first picture, the media was claiming oh poor baby got a busted lip. Thing is you can see the deviation of the septum. You can also see the bruising at the bridge. and the caked blood above the lip.  We can also see the lacerations on the back of his head, straight lines consistent with the edge of the concrete.

What we didn't see and what was later found in the forensic details, there were grass stains on the jacket Zimmerman wore, corroborating that he attempted to wiggle off the concrete that his head was being bashed into. from powder burns and forensics we know that Trayvon was most assuredly on top of Zimmerman when he was shot. It is therefore unlikely that Trayvon was the one calling for help. More importantly Trayvon suffered only one other injury beside the bullet, his knuckles were scraped, suggesting that he not only through the first punch but continued the fight.

So we clearly know that Zimmerman was on the ground, getting his head bashed against concrete, attempting to escape from an uninjured aggressor, with difficulty breathing from a broken nose and was calling for help before a shot was ever fired.  Regardless of whether Trayvon did or did not reach for the gun, did or did not threaten to kill him, Zimmerman exceeded the requirements for fear of life before reaching for the gun and pulling the trigger.

In this case for this event, the physical evidence is not only present but it is clear and definitive. We cannot have an opinion, we cannot speculate, we know exactly what happened. The aggressor was shot while attempting to beat his opponent on concrete. If you wish to argue with me lets agree that I can break your nose and bash your head on the concrete. We can even run two tests, one to see how long you last before deciding you'll die and two how long you can physically remain conscious while your brain sloshes back and forth on the interior of your skull.

That's the physical evidence and ignores entirely that Trayvon was a violent and unstable individual. He was in Sanford because he was kicked out of school for fighting. His opening move in that fight, a strike to the nose breaking it on his schoolmate. His friends had told him to stop fighting and chill out but he boasted about how he wanted to see more blood. He also had been caught previously with stolen jewelry in his bag, not that he per se stole it that will always be unknown.

 He was a lean addict, a form of Robitussin addiction that requires a sweet soda like say a sprite and some fruity candy like say some skittles.  This came out from reviews of his text message,  and the liver and neurological damage done from prolonged use. Whether he was on the substance at the time is irrelevant, prolonged use increases paranoia and aggression, character traits that his friends and family confirmed were increasing for him.

At the end of the day we had a violent and mentally imbalanced youth, start a fight with an armed individual.  This same youth continued to beat the armed man while he was calling for help and attempting to get away. While we will never know whether he actually threatened to kill the pinned armed man calling for help,  he had a history of violent action and lexicon so its not implausible. While the end of that youth's life is tragic, as is any loss of life, in this scenario it was almost inevitable.

My condolences go out to the Martin family.  My shame to the media that promoted this beyond the evidence and into some national fiasco. The worst of all the players were the prosecutor who had a history of overcharging or political grandstanding, its a great thing that she was indicted by a grand jury, may she burn for her actions.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Correspondence Principal

I have covered a few different aspects of scientific and rhetorical arguments. These principles outline the fundamental way that we weed through grand claims and hollow promises.  We have covered the Idea of falsification, that all theories must have a hypothesis or theoretical data set which would render them false. We covered numerical vs. rhetorical arguments, and the strength of each type of argument. We also covered a basic knowledge of statistics as a means of testing our hypothesis against actual data sets. There is another "logical" test that we apply to new hypothesis, it tests a theory against what we already know and have settled as fact. This principle is called the correspondence principle, and like most of my articles I will apply it to the catastrophic warming theory.

First a bit of history. Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of atomic theory began to apply this approach to his development of the atomic model, however he officially publicized the approach in 1920. The reason for the correspondence principle was due to the emerging field of quantum mechanics, and more specifically, general relativity. Physics had started to look at the fundamental structure of our universe, beyond what we could see and directly demonstrate. While these theories were validated experimentally at a later date some of the hypothesis seemed very different and complex from the original and well accepted Newtonian physics.

Essentially the correspondance principle states that any new scientific hypothesis must correspond with the currently accepted theories or drastically improve upon them (explain what previous theories didn't). It's a fairly simple test and essentially allows us an easy way to intuitively test essentially untestable theories (at the time of publication).

For instance lets say someone wanted to claim that frogs are purple not green.  We can look at the wavelength observed from the frog and if it matches what we consider green we can state confidently that the frog is definitely not purple.

So how could I have an issue with the claims of climate change. Many key scientists claim that that warming and CO2 will lead to two disastrous effects, global warming and ocean acidification. Global warming will lead to draughts and storms and various other problems. Ocean acidification supposedly .1 pH loss over the past 200 years could start to consume marine organisms that rely on carbonate shells. The reason I am skeptical of the claims is the correspondance principle. What else do we know that contradicts these two claims?

First we know that CO2 is required for photosynthesis. The stated value for pre-industrial CO2 is 280ppm. Plants see massive production shortfalls below 220ppm and die at levels below 150ppm. But it's not an all or nothing production from plants. If grown at levels between 475 and 600 ppm there is a 40% increase in growth rates and a 20% reduction in water use over current CO2 levels. There is ample evidence that the growth rate benefits continue beyond 600ppm. about 34 million years ago CO2 levels fell below 760ppm, At the same time this occurred glaciers appeared on the planet for the first time, as well as a mass extinction event. More importantly there was a forced evolution from highly efficient C3 plants to the less efficient C4 plants that perform better at lower CO2 levels. If you want evidence of the impact of such a change you need look no further than the current size of land animals on the planet. Comparatively we have much smaller species, smaller species have lower food requirements allowing mammals to survive better with less biomass production. This same principle is one of the ways we know that there is not enough feed stock for a pleiosaur in the famed Loch Ness.

760PPM isnt the highest CO2 concentration the planet has seen either. Concentrations were up to about 3000ppm 150-200 million years ago, and they were about 6000ppm between 400-600 million years ago. In other words during the same period with the highest CO2 concentrations the world has seen, life thrived being larger than it has been since. We have a causal tested link between CO2 and biomass production.

But what about ocean acidification. Recently a group of Norwegian Scientists concluded that there was a 30% increase in ocean acidity since the pre-industrial age.  There are several studies showing concern for our mollusk populations which rely on carbonate ions for their protective shells. Well the truth is much of that is BS. we didn't conceive of acidity until 1909, and we didn't have a reliable means of measuring acidity until 1924 with the development of electrochemical cells (pH meters). There is no real way of reliably knowing what the Actual pH was in the oceans 200 years ago, even 50 years ago the relative accuracy and capabilities of probes were not what they are today.

So if CO2 concentrations have risen about 30% and CO2 forms carbonic acid in a linear relationship, a 30% increase in ocean acidity is reasonable right? Well no the reality is the ocean has a continuously renewed buffer capacity, this means the pH of the ocean will remain relatively stable  even with the introduction of strong acids, which carbonic acid is not. Also both the solubility and dissociation constant of carbonic acid/CO2 is very small.  The 30% acidification claim can only be true if we assume that CO2 is the only source of acid in the oceans, there is no buffer capacity, and no uptake from algae.

But what about the claims of mollusk losses or carbonate consumption. First carbonic acid forms carbonate so every time carbonic acid fully dissociates, a full carbonate ion is produced. Second the creatures that are supposedly the most sensitive to CO2 ACTUALLY EVOLVED 552million years ago, during the period of peak atmospheric CO2.

So lets talk about global warming in the context of CO2. Wont that doom us? well no. See were finding the climate sensitivity to CO2 is substantially smaller than what we have been force fed for the past decade.  coming in somewhere between 1.2 and 3 degrees C. The average of recent climate sensitivity papers (in the past 4 years) comes to about 2 C, so well use this as the example.  Every time we double our CO2 content we get a 2C increase. So with CO2 at 400ppm if we were to double that to 800 ppm we would get a 2 C increase in temperature. Doubling it again to 1600 ppm would again provide that same 2 C increase.  and again to 3200 would give us another 2C returning to our 6000PPM prehistoric levels we would get yet one more 2 C increase. so going to 6000ppm would give us a total temperature rise of about 8C.

Lets assume that we get similar effects for photosynthetic efficiency and water reduction.  As such with that same 4 doublings we would be producing about 384% food production, while only using 37% of the water of current production.  Thats assuming simply planting with the same number of growth cycles and farming distribution as we see today.  Obviously were ignoring the expansion of arable land due to warmer weather and longer growing seasons.

How about the societal impact? Well there was a study conducted recently to determine the effects of cold and heat on energy requirements.  In a comparison between Miami and minneapolis. It was found that there were more energy heating days in colder cities than cooling days in warm cities. Due to the nature of heating vs cooling systems it is much more energy efficient to cool a building by a degree than to heat it. The result, 8 degrees of warming would reduce temperature control energy requirements to 56% of current requirements.

But lets just say that there are going to be negative consequences of global warming and that climate science is correct. Using the same economic projections as the IPCC we can calculate that initiative to curb our emissions cost 50 times more than simply dealing with the consequences.

There have been several studies recently released indicating previously reported ice melting and purported sea level rise vs. temperature were grossly exaggerated in previous publications.  So ultimately, what's the problem? In order to propose a disaster climate science essentially has to ignore decades of research in biology, botany, paleontology, chemistry, physics, geology and economics. This is a violations of the correspondence principle and a fundamental flaw in catastrophic projections.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Falsification and Logical Fallacies: How to Win Any Argument or Simply Spot Bullshit

As an Aspergers child I had to ingrain in myself a series of rules to effectively communicate with other people. Proper expression and proper interpretation of statements, to and from myself, is the difference between being that funny odd kid and being socially shunned.  The rule set must be robust enough to give indications of statement validity, accuracy, and proper representation. It also must be able to parse the information for hidden social cues like sarcasm or patronism, and provide trending data like argument or conviction strength so I can discern interest level in the topic at hand.  failure on these paths can lead to me being taken for a ride so to speak. 

The rule set also has to be simple enough that some processing is left over to recognize tonal, lexicon, diction, pitch and temporal fluctuations in speech patterns. Otherwise I would fail to recognize mood more often. My statements have to undergo the same processing in order to match the speech pattern, and still be filled with content and accuracy. This all has to be done in real time so the individual doesn't think I'm ignoring them. I use falsification and logical fallacies to achieve these goals. 

My heuristics aren't unique, they have been used since we first emerged a hundred thousand years or so. It's a bit more effective for the species to win arguments using rhetoric, than simply clubbing one another over the head. They are nearly identical to the concepts of falsification and logical fallacies, which have their own wikipedia entries.



It's associated list

All Swans are not white, the theory is falsifiable

We predominantly avoid subjective rhetoric in favor of objective rhetoric. Subjectivity while holding some relevance for interpersonal discussions is completely useless in broader arguments.  Consider the gay marriage debate for a moment. Take two speakers, one who is in favor of and another who is opposed to gay marriage. If the argument were to boil down simply to one speaker saying they felt it was wrong and the other disagreeing the arguments essentially cancel one another out. Emotions are irrelevant in the debate as they depend on a subjective stance. As long as we hold no individual is superior to another, subjective arguments will always nullify one another.  

So we know that arguments, debates, policies and rule sets must be based in some semblance of objective reality (most aren't but there are usually shreds of evidence supporting them). There are therefore two types of valid arguments, the strongest is quantitative. Correctly acquired, processed and presented data validates an argument in ways that rhetoric simply can't. Data never makes an argument, it can only support or deny a claim.

 In order to have a valid quantitative argument the theory must be falsifiable. Numbers, statistics and trends and counts define a quantitative argument. The rules for a quantitative argument are simple, there must be data, the relevant variables were isolated, and there must be potential data set which can disprove the theory. The falsifiability of an argument relates to the last segment. The theory of evolution can be disproven if you find a modern day squirrel fossil in 65 million year old rock. The theory of gravity by mass attraction is easily disproven, all you have to do is find an object, with no repulsive force, that doesn't fall to the ground when released. Falsifiability is why evolution can be taught in a science class and creation myth's can't.

Almost no arguments stem from data however.  Most debates over policy, preferences, or large systems cannot be quantified easily.  The variables can't be removed, or there's no way to disprove the claim.  These arguments while originating from a subjective source can be presented objectively. Some arguments can even be inferred from data even if there is no clear causal link. We still need a way to reign in and identify poorly constructed or defined arguments, this comes through logial fallacies. You can think of a logical fallacy as a test of the underlying structure or logic of an argument.  For instance if you were to argue 'oil companies have something to gain by invalidating climate science' that's fine. Arguing that 'skepticism of global warming is driven by big oil  propaganda' is not.  The second argument violates a few logical fallacies. Let's break the example down a bit.

First we have an ad hominem fallacy, using the term "big oil". A study's relevance is determined by it's adherence to the scientific method, not it's funding source. Secondly skepticism is a perfectly valid stance for any argument, the burden of proof for a claim lies on the individual making the claim not those that refute it, this is known as onus probundi or burden of proof fallacies. Thirdly the use of the word 'propaganda' is an appeal using emotional words to derogatorily caraciture scientifically sound studies. 

Let's apply this knowledge to three losing arguments of current debates

First there is gay marriage:
1. What about the children

This argument frequently comes up as part of the gay marriage debate.  If homosexuals are allowed to marry they can adopt children and what kind of environment are we allowing kids into. While it's  an interesting debate it is completely incorrect.  First we have studied children raised by gay couples and have found no discrepancies between them and their heterosexual family counterparts, not in test scores, income, welfare proclivity, or homosexual tendencies. In fact children adopted by homosexual couples are actually in a better environment than those in heterosexual environment. Interestingly enough there cant be any accidental pregnancies, and, with the costs child adoption being what they are, every adopted child is a planned child. It is undertaken by parents with the time, energy and resources to care for them. this argument is readily identified  and dismissed as an appeal to emotion.

2. Marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman not a man and a sheep or other thing

This I have heard from several anti gay marriage folks.  First it's irrelevant, if you want to marry a sheep why do I have a say in it. Secondly your talking about two consenting adults, both have full cognizance of the contract and consequences.  This is readily identifiable by the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The idea of this therefore that, because one action is allowed it will eventually end up with another.

3.  DOMA doesn't violate the equal protections clause
This is patently false and we do have data on it.  The entire reason DOMA is in the supreme court is because a woman in a homosexual relationship did not have rights of survivor-ship and the government confiscated $400,000 of her partners money after death. 
Source: The Economist

Second lets look at climate change, a "quantitative" argument
1.  The science is settled/ majority of scientists agree

Clearly it's not. We have data that diverges profoundly with the predictive modeling. Whether its due to coal, or volcanoes or some other unknown factor. The predictive models have failed. While there are a lot of fallacies that can be tagged to this statement the best is the argumentum ad populum. the idea that an argument becomes true simply because many people or authority figures believe it.

2.  Global warming is inevitable
It doesn't seem so. We have evidence that shows several periods of warming with intermittent pauses and even cooling cycles. The argument is based essentially on one period of strong warming from 1976-1990. This can be identified as the fallacy of the single cause. It is being the argument is invalidated every day

3.  The current cooling period doesn't invalidate climate science
This comes out in many forms. Some are that this period is exceptional due to volcanos or coal, others try to say we need 40 years of discrepant data to invalidate the models. The first is an example of overwhelming exception, the second is an example of moving the goal post and a lack of falsifiability. If you can't falsify a claim in a reasonable amount of time you cant consider it falsifiable.

Last we'll look at gun control
1. We should ban assault rifles to prevent deaths

There is literally no evidence of this from a quantitative standpoint. Even with the shootings assault rifles make up less than 1% of the homicide rates in the US.  Assault rifles are an artistic choice rather than an actual weapon category. Even factoring large capacity magazines the shooters only fired about 10 bullets before swapping clips.  Any time you make an appeal to children, or fear such as weapons of war, this is an appeal to emotion. Not only is there no data supporting a potential impact in homicide rates,  the data actually disagrees with the position. 

2. Gun violence is on the rise

Nope it's not. There is no data to support this. Reported shootings is on the rise because of the 24 hour news cycle. This is an example of an inconsistent comparison.

3. Automatic weapons were used in the recent shootings

Obama just said this, he was wrong end of argument. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Radiation and Energy Deathprint;

Before I begin I wanted to say sorry for not posting in a while. I have been involved in a discussion thread on linked in regarding nuclear power green energy and the necessities or lack there of surrounding climate change.

There has also been some fun debate regarding a paper by Marcott et al attempting to demonstrate a strong increase in warming. The paper is drawing extensive criticism that will be making it into a blog post sooner rather than later here. However this post is a response to a comment and question from Cathy to my article on nuclear power.

" doesn't let you post a comment. but..?...1 death in japan, 31 in japan....have there not been or will there be more deaths as a result of the ...failure? and in russia we heard for years about children being born with birth defects because of chernobyl? so although it may not be a "high death rate" at the time of the failure...what if any is the number of deaths that occured down the road but as a result?"

In reality 31 people died from directly linked causes from Chernobyl. we can expand that number up to about 70 if we include a few workers who showed signs of radiation poisoning or 9 children who died of a thyroid tumor afterwards. Projecting cancer rates beyond that are iffy but the actual number of lives affected by Chernobyl. comes at somewhere between 4,000 and 27,000 from the WHO.

Many people cite three mile island but the best estimates for actual exposure is less than that of a chest xray showing essentially no increased risk of cancer. In that forum I linked, someone tried to point to "hundreds of cases", and that the actual estimates were off by a factor of 100. What's interesting is that if we take the cancer risk from the NRC estimates and multiply it by 100 you will get 1 more fatal cancer per population of about 18,000 people. Based on the highest estimates of 2 million people exposed, and noting that dispersion increases the farther you are the legitimacy of hundreds of cases drops fast. At most about 100 people were affected. There are far more attempting to file suit.

Fukushima is the most recent plant to have a problem. Even so there are currently no projected casualties, and thus far no one has died. While we should marvel at this people are still clamoring fear's surrounding nuclear energy. People haven't died from Fukushima because of a marked improvement in containment and response compared to Chernobyl. To be clear about how safe the fukushima disaster was, the tsunami that hit japan killed 20,000 people. The WHO has concluded that the people surrounding the plant were only subject to 10-50mSv of radiation. It requires a 1000 mSv exposure to produce measurable health effects. There's an excellent article on the subject in Forbes.

Radiation is an abstract concept and giving a measurement is essentially meaningless to most people. If you haven't read the webcomic XKCD I recommend doing so, but for now here is a chart that was put together to explain radiation and dosages.


So what is radiation? Well in short it's a magnetic wave. The same type of wave that we use to transmits radio or cellphone signals. This has led some people to fear any form of electromagnetic wave and is exactly why every 5 years or so someone starts reporting on how cellphones cause cancer. They don't, people are stupid, and we can prove it.

The electromagnetic spectrum is large, it contains all kinds of radiation from infrared, radio, ultraviolet to even the normal light which we use to see every day. Here is a really good graphic from NASA depicting the electromagnetic spectrum. 

So what makes some radiation dangerous? Well the answer lies in what we know as Ionizing radiation. This essentially has enough energy to whisk the electrons orbiting an atom away. It only occurs at the higher frequencies.  This is why cell phones, radio, and even your microwave wont give you cancer. The frequency, or distance between the peaks, is simply too far apart to disrupt the electron. At the upper end of the visible spectrum the radiation starts becoming ionizing radiation.

If your having trouble envisioning this think of a fisherman on an ocean in a little dinghy. Assuming calm seas, waves don't hit him too frequently, so he sits fishing. On a windy day the frequency and number of waves slowly push his little dinghy around. In the same way an electron is simply pushed off with an ionizing wave.

Once the electron has been removed the atom becomes ionized and the chemical bonds can begin to destabilize (assuming no electrons absorbed from water etc.). When this hits DNA, individual codons (the base pairs for DNA) can break apart interrupting the sequence and distorting the gene. In most cases the cells simply die. However under the right circumstances the altered cell can become cancerous, never dying and continuing to replicate.

So how dangerous is nuclear power and the inherent radiation? How do we compare this to other power sources? The easiest  way is to take the total number of deaths. So we have a maximum of 27,000 from Chernobyl and that's pretty much it. The WHO projects a negligible impact from fukushima, and TMI had at most, assuming the 100 factor increase, an extra 100 deaths. I even had someone want to talk about uranium mining deaths pre 1950 which comes to 1,595. So if we add it all up there's the 27,000 plus 1,695 external deaths. But just for a nice big margin of error lets increase the externality death count to 3,000. I'm adding 1,300 people to the death toll just because I like round numbers, let's say 30,000 people have died from nuclear energy.

That's kind of shitty, but so was the Banqiao dam disaster which killed, 170,000 people. Clearly a total death toll is not necessarily an accurate measure of a technologies efficacy or safety. So let's divide the deaths by the amount of energy produced. That way we can accurately compare lives lost per unit of production. When we do this using worst case scenario numbers we get a list that looks like this

Energy Source               Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
Coal – global average         170,000    (50% global electricity)
Coal – China                         280,000   (75% China’s electricity)
Coal – U.S.                               15,000    (44% U.S. electricity)
Oil                                               36,000    (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)
Natural Gas                                4,000    (20% global electricity)
Biofuel/Biomass                    24,000    (21% global energy)
Solar (rooftop)                              440    (< 1% global electricity)
Wind                                                 150    (~ 1% global electricity)
Hydro – global average          1,400    (15% global electricity)
Nuclear – global average            90    (17%  global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
So from this nuclear looks like the safest possible source. But they didn't include those extra 3,000 people that I want to add just because I really want nuclear to lose this competition. if we take 30,000/27,000 we get a multiplying factor of 1.11. Nice so nuclear has killed... oh only 99.9 people compared to wind's 150 and solar's 450. Well damn and using the lower estimates without those externalities were looking at around 12 people per trillion kilowatt hours. 
This is including all the old data from plants that were built 60-70 years ago. What about those bigger more modern plants. Lets assume that chernobyl like disasters occur at a similar rate to nuclear core incidents. Now lets compare modern gen III plants to Gen II plants on a core failure basis. 
Heres the wikipedia article im using for the source material.
So Gen II's had 10,000 incidents per 1 billion years. Not too shabby, that means there is roughly 10 incidents per 1 million operating years or 1 incident per 100,000 operating years. Thats not too shabby, if we have 1,000 plants running for 100 years we should have one core damage event.
 Now that's the plants running without a tsunami or reactor operators simply screwing the pooch like Fukushima and Chernobyl respectively. But lets just say that the ratio is comparable with weather and human failures. 

Gen III reactors have only 60 core incidents per 1 billion years for a high end dangerous and terrifying European pressurized reactor (Im not sure the sarcasm is detectable). The economic simplified boiling water reactor only has 3 incidents per 1 billion years. The reduction of fatalities from these designs would fall from 27,000 to roughly 9-180 people.  And that assumes no containment. Our containment designs alone are the reason Fukushima will not have a noticeable casualty or cancer rate. This means that nuclear power is the only source that can produce almost zero casualties. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What the Hell Does Statistically Significant Mean?

There are three kinds of lies according to Mark Twain, "Lies, damned lies and statistics". There was even a book called How to lie with statistics. Whats so important about statistics and why would people call it lying? Its a two pronged question that ill try to fully explain. Believe me even I get a bit confused when trying to explain statistics.


First statistics is the backbone of modern scientific work. Because of the complexity involved in modern research and the importance of major breakthroughs we need to collect tons of data. Modern experiments simply aren't aiming at low hanging scientific fruit anymore and potential gains may be almost minimal or indistinguishable from background noise. So, we collect data, lots and lots of data. On any study there may be thousands or even millions of data points to sort through and process and statistics is how we do that. 

The assumption of statistics is that if there was an absolute value to something that you could measure, you would never measure that exact value every time no matter how accurate your instrument. Assuming you had an infinite number of measurements even though they weren't all the same, the average or mean of the sample should represent the true value. Clearly an infinite number of measurements is impractical for reasons of both time and money so we use statistics to give us an idea of what that mean could be with the data we can gather. Think of it kind of like a plinko distribution.

Statistics: making game shows boring since forever
Any one of those balls could end up in any one of those slots when dropped but the overwhelming majority will end up in the middle. So how do we use that in science? There are essentially two ways that statistics gets heavily used. 

The first is to essentially try to find a connection between an observed result and a bunch of possible variables. We're essentially looking for a correlation between variables. So for instance I have two cats and Id like to test to see how I can make them more cuddly (wicked gay experiment I know bear with me). So I'm attempting to figure out what triggers the desired behavior from the following variables: how much food they eat, the sugar content of the food, how much sleep they get, how recently they took a bath and positive reinforcement. At the conclusion of my experiment I can test each variable for a relationship to my target behavior (cuddles). If I find a relationship between baths and positive reinforcement but no others I can rule out food sugar and sleep. Now assuming this relationship is positive on both accounts that doesn't mean that continuous baths or treats will always yield more cuddles, it means that further testing is required under more controlled circumstances.  

If you said aha you were limited in what potential options could affect the outcome congrats gold star to you. If you said ahaha that proves crap, their may be influences like free will that essentially nullifies the experiment except in the broadest sense you get a 1 UP mushroom because your awesome.  

Yay Video games
What you just stumbled upon is the golden rule of statistics and also the most frequently ignored. CORRELATION DOES NOT AND WILL NOT EVER PROVE CAUSATION. The closest you can get is a single variable system like say pushing a toy car AND you can link the effect to the cause with a mathematical relation. See the second rule surrounding correlations is they can only be found using straight lines.Those lines can be mathematically rearranged to be straight but at the end of the day they have to be straight and they have to be lines. If you don't follow those rules bias is likely to creep in and you can find whatever you want to see.  So when you see people linking 

To This

Its kind of, sort of shoddy statistics. See the lines both go up and they both seem to be on an exponential ish curve but there is a hell of a lot more variability in one than the other. That's not to say that they cant be linked or shouldn't be linked but that temperature data needs to be cleaned up a lot. That's right folks it's a climate change article huzzah. Which brings us to the second major use of statistics in science, prediction.

See once we have our theories we need to test those theories, this is science after all not psychology (that link remains until Carol Gilligans crackpot theories with no evidence are cast out from textbooks, I can hold a grudge quite well Westfield (-.-)). So once we have a working model; one that cleans up all the data and variables to show the trends as clearly correlated; we need to test that hypothesis and model. In the case of climate change that is done by both back casting climate, and attempting to forecast it.  But how do we know if were right and not just making some crap up. Well prepare for a fun lesson in statistics.

Normal Distribution
Above you see whats called a normal distribution curve. It's not really useful as it technically doesn't exist (outside of math and theory), but it is the base of all statistics, gaze upon it.  The numbers on the bottom of  the curve represent whats called a standard deviation. Each standard deviation away from the midpoint/zero/base point contains more of the data as a direct percentage of a theoretical infinite sample size. You can see those percentages within the brackets, so within half of a standard deviation 38.2 percent of the total data is contained, 19.1% on both the left and the right. 

You may have heard of the 95% confidence interval or statistical significance (hint: its what this terribly boring thing is about). While arbitrary, it essentially means that 95% of my collected data should fit within about 1.66 standard deviations from the mean. So when testing a theory the mean is my hypothesized value and the standard deviation is my error typically reported as a +/- value or percentage of the hypothesis. There is actual math to determine your standard deviation it is not a guess value and cannot be arbitrarily changed because your data doesn't line up. When determining significance, what we are essentially saying is the probability of the data matching our mean by chance is 5% or less.

So lets put all of this together for hypothesis testing. Let's say I made the claim that I was like a human thermometer. Not only could I tell your temperature, I could do so merely by looking at you and my accuracy would be within +/- .1 degrees Fahrenheit. It's an awesome claim so we design an experiment, we take 1000 volunteers who I simply look at through a photograph. The temperature of all participants is taken at the same time of the photographs. So I proclaim every single photograph has a temperature of 98.6 degrees (this is the natural average anyways). Now lets say the actual data lies within +/- 1 degree rather than the +/- .1 degrees I claim. My proclaimed accuracy is essentially falsified.  Even if the mean of all those temperatures is 98.6, and the accuracy is correct, it still doesn't prove my claim that I can accurately tell human temperature from appearance. This is a demonstration of correlation vs. causation error.

Artists depiction of me reading temperature

So how do we apply this to climate change? Well lets assume that I have a model projection of what the global average temperature should be (my mean) and because I'm super smart I did all the very painful (it truly is excruciating) math to determine my error (the standard deviation). In order for me to be correct about both my mean and standard deviation, 95% of the sample data should fit within 1.66 times my standard error from the mean. If the data is scattered so as not to be significant either the hypothesis, the margin of error or both are incorrect. That's assuming the data is scattered outside of both tails of the curve. If however the data is scattered only outside of one tail (like being below all estimates) then we can say that the probability of the hypothesized mean being correct is less than 2.5%.  So the probability that climate change/global warming/extreme weather forecast predictions and models accurately depict the future is less than 2.5%. Think about that for a moment.

Out of 34 models when the estimates are averaged together (a reasonable practice with a multiple estimate scenario) actual temperature is below the predicted temperature below the level of significance and has been for almost 18 years. Now almost all of these models don't find significance on their own, only a few actually show some significance with actual data. So in short the probability that the settled science, that the claims for trillions of dollars in alternative energy are neccessary to avoid catastrophe, have a less than 2.5% chance of being correct. I have mentioned the precautionary principle but frankly that's just absurd.

So how do climatologists plan on handling observational discrepancies? Well I know I have faced this challenge with computer models that I designed and my response was to start from scratch; I'm also fairly rigid in how math and science should be applied. One potential solution to the discrepancy is to expand the margins of error for the estimates. An interesting choice considering the largest criticism of climatologists is that they are overstating their confidence and position. The other is to wait for more data.

These choices bring about other issues aside from the due chiding in the public arena; and proof that the science isn't as settled as is claimed). They can only expand those uncertainties so much before the models predict cooling, warming and no temperature change at all.

If' your theory is proven correct by all potential outcomes it is not falsifiable. If a theory is not falsifiable than it is no better than a religion. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Whats So Scary About Nuclear Power?

Warning Diehard movie spoilers ahead:

I watched Diehard last weekend and it was entertaining; huzzah explosions and all that. I only had one issue with the movie and that was the complete misunderstanding of nuclear energy. My instinctual anger at horrible physics was related to one scene in the movie, it wasn't even 30 seconds long, yet there was still soo much misinformation.

The plot of the die hard movie revolved the idea that Chernobyl was a man made accident (it was) which was brought about by illegal weapons merchants getting greedy selling reactor byproducts or fuels (it wasn't). There was a warehouse containing weapons grade uranium 235 which, would simply not happen as a reactor byproduct or a fuel, and even this didn't set off my bad science alert. I'm more than willing to accept some fudging of accuracy for the merits of storytelling. I got pissed off when they entered the warehouse containing said uranium and determined the radiation had been pooling for decades, and they had a spray to neutralize it. Those two statements actually angered me.

Nuclear fuels and waste products are relatively safe. You don't want to put them in your pillow and sleep on them every night but handling them is not some sort of life threatening risk. Diehard even accurately depicted this, however they had to clean up "pooled" radiation. Radiation isn't a gas or a liquid. It simply can't, ever or under any circumstances pool. Radio-nuclides don't become more dangerous over time. Radiation radiates, until it hits something and is absorbed.
Yep not really great against radiation

 It's pretty simple, and yet someone felt they needed to address this issue write a script, develop a technology and CGI the cleaning of the radiation for something that simply wasn't even a major plot point.  They even said the fuel is stable and there are no major short term exposure risks. They took off their protective suits. Maybe I'm perseverating, but to me, Hollywood acts like it's some sort of intellectual mecca, yet no one on a big budget movie said hey this is dumb. The fact that they filmed the clip, which again wasn't a critical plot point at all, and then dumped it on the public is more indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding of nuclear physics in the general populace.

From the above image you can see the four main types of nuclear radiation and the corresponding materials required to stop them.

Alpha Radiation: Alpha radiation is the same thing as a helium nucleus its large and that's why it can be stopped by paper. Not really a threat to anyone.

Neutron Radiation: Neutron radiation is essentially only produced during a nuclear reaction, its barrier requirements are very high and it essentially disappears when a reactor is shut down.

Beta Radiation: Beta radiation comes in two forms beta + and beta-. This is simply an electron or the oppositely charged component called a positron. It is readily stopped by stuff that's thicker than a piece of paper and beta emitting material is usually trapped in the pipes circulating around a reactor.

Gamma radiation: Gamma radiation is essentially light, its light that we can't see but its just light. It's emitted from particles and in the reactor. overwhelmingly gamma radiation is what people are referring to as radiation in a nuclear plant.

From this synopsis you should be able to get that the only two types of radiation we worry about is beta and gamma, the others only exist when the reactor is running or are essentially nonthreatening. Beta emitters are produced as some of the fuel degrades or byproducts escape into the water. In a nuclear plant beta radiation is safely contained in pipes. The only time it becomes a threat is when work has to be completed, assuming proper procedures are followed (they are or you get fired) the exposure and risk is minimal. The only radiation truly worth tracking is gamma exposure.

Both beta and gamma radiation are produced from radio-nuclides breaking down into more stable component's. nuclides that break down are called radioactive. If you just said aha that's why radiation levels couldn't have been worse after fifty years you get a gold star. As more of a nuclide breaks down there is less remaining, so radiation levels drop. The way we measure the activity of decomposing material is through half lives. A half life simply put is the period of time required for you to have half of the starting radioactive material.

Uranium is all natural so it must be safe :-P

So how dangerous is the material, well that depends on the half life and the amount of time elapsed. Because Uranium 235 has a half life of about 703 million years its not all that dangerous. The statement "A candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long" is a solid analogy. Radio-nuclides that have really short half lives are dangerous but not for a very long time. There are some radioactive materials which decay into more radioactive materials before becoming stable but these are uncommon.

So what makes an element radioactive? Well in short it's the number of neutrons an element has (protons and electrons define what the element is).  The total number of protons and neutrons determines the atomic mass of an element. The different atomic masses are what we call isotopes which is is the difference when talking about Uranium 235 vs. say the more common Uranium 238.  The difference between these two isotopes is 3 neutrons and that difference makes uranium 235 more prone to undergo fission in a nuclear reaction. We can say that Uranium 235 is more fissile than Uranium 238.

Nuclear  Energy: think of the amount of nuclear energy derived being equal to the difference between your staring element and final element

So how do we get Uranium 235, well hydrogen and other elements undergo fusion in stars but that essentially only forms iron. When stars supernova the released energy forces fusion to higher elements.  Then as time goes on the unstable elements decay leaving the more stable ones behind. Uranium 235 may have the impressive half life of 703.8 million years but Uranium 238 has a half life of almost 4.5 billion.  This leaves us with a relative abundance of about .72% Uranium 235.

We like Uranium 235 though, its easier to use so we have to .... enrich the uranium sample. How do you do that? Primarily through diffusion. In short because Uranium 235 is less massive than Uranium 238 it moves faster. So if you turn the uranium into a gas or a liquid through chemical processes then attach this to a really really long tube or series of tubes the Uranium 235 and Uranium 238 will flow at different rates. Considering were talking about a 3 neutron difference this process is needless to say fairly expensive.

Lot's of tubes and a really long time
The higher the purity you need the more expensive, and difficult it is to produce. That's why I said enriched Uranium not weapons grade. See nuclear reactors don't run on weapons grade, they don't even run close to it. Most reactors run on less than 5% Uranium 235. In fact most reactors aren't too picky in terms of how well refined the fuel is. A few reactors particularly molten salt reactors need less than 2% Uranium. There are a few reactors which run with higher enrichment such as research reactors and military nuclear reactors but they are the exception rather than the rule. The rest of the fuel is a ceramic material coupled with  a few other fissile materials. For a comparison weapons grade uranium hovers around 80% Uranium 235.

How do we know the limitations and that rectors wont go boom? Well that has to do with the measurable concept of criticality.  Criticality is a fancy way of saying whether a nuclear reaction is slowing, speeding up or maintaining speed.  The definition of criticality is essentially dividing the current generation of free neutrons by the previous generation. if the value is 1 the reactor is running critical, if the value is greater than 1 the reactor is running super-critical and if the value is less than one it is running sub-critical. Yes reactors run critical or super-critical all the time and no one dies (unlike the movies). When the control rods are withdrawn from the fuel cells the reactor will run super-critical until it becomes critical.

So when we are looking to blow crap up we know that we need the number or unrestricted neutrons to essentially remain critical while the rest of the material explodes. the less refined the material the more of it is needed to maintain this unrestricted fission.The mass of material needed to maintain the number of neutrons generated is known as the... critical mass. At a 6% concentration of Uranium 235 the mass required to sustain a nuclear blast is infinite. This doesn't just mean that reactors won't go boom, it means they physically can not.

It also means the Diehard explanation for Chernobyl is a bit flaky, if the bad guy was buying weapons grade uranium to run as fuel then the operators would have simply adjusted the reactor to run critical, no boom. If he was trying to run the reactor to produce Uranium 235... well he cant.  The original concerns were for reactors producing plutonium which would still require enrichment to be weapons usable. This would have again collapsed the entire story. Like I said it was a story telling device so I tried to merely grimace. It would also mean that in order for the plot to have happened socialist governments have to be the most corrupt bribe taking ...oh wait never mind.

So what did happen at Chernobyl, or Fukushima? and what is a meltdown? Nuclear plants and reactors are inherently safe. In fact you either have to try to cause them to fail or there needs to be an act of god. This actually explains both Chernobyl and Fukushima but only vaguely.  The only weakness to a nuclear reactor is its coolant supply. See nuclear reactions release a lot of energy, literally shit loads of it. Even with the control rods in there is still some latent heat and reactions occurring. As such cooling water must always be supplied to the reactor even during shut down. Even the spent fuel has a cooling system. A lack of cooling over a prolonged period of time will start to raise temperatures significantly. If things get too hot parts fail.

See Chernobyl was a byproduct of Russian engineering which is an oxymoron like military intelligence. It was also a generation 1 reactor built as a publicity stunt by the soviet empire. In short it was almost doomed to fail.  Chernobyl had no form of containment, there was no cement dome or pressure seals or really any safeguards in case of equipment failure.  But even that oversight wasn't as dumb as the reactor operators deciding to run a drill around coolant failure procedures... by actually shutting down the coolant.  Im guessing USSR school fire drills must have consisted of lighting the school on fire.

By the time they decided to restore cooling the plant had failed, the components had gotten hot enough to start producing flammable gasses. This exploded breaching their lack of containment with a variety of radioactive salts and byproducts. So that's kind of a bad problem, whats worse is it happened behind the iron curtain and information and aid was refused by the soviets. All in all the total death count was.. 31 people. That's it the largest nuclear disaster in the history of mankind killed 31 people. There are other estimates which are higher but 31 is the only actual number of solidly recorded deaths.

The next big nuclear disaster is Fukushima, which resulted after a massive earthquake and tsunami basically destroyed all power and utilities transmission to the plant. As a result of not being able to maintain pumping capabilities the reactor overheated and ... oh ya there was containment.  Only one of the reactors breached containment.  and the release was not all that bad. 0 people died in the incident. Most incident reports and even a lawsuit are alleging that the government and a lack of a questioning attitude are to blame for Fukushima. Fukushima was another publicity nuclear powerplant, attempting to show the world the glory of Japan.

So what does that mean for us? Well we learned a lot from these two disasters. modern plants are being designed with automatic redundancies and gravity based cooling systems. Because of current design modification plants are able to be produced almost 80% cheaper than in previous years even with extra redundancy systems. The Westinghouse AP1000 is so well designed that we are actually seeing nuclear plants constructed again after a halt in production for almost 30 years in the US. Like I said nuclear plants are insanely safe and they generate crap load of power. Nuclear power is the safest source in terms of deaths per trillion kilowatt hours with 90, wind comes in second with 150. Its also got the smallest carbon footprint for those who care.

I have explained how radiation works, and how it's not dangerous. I also explained how nuclear plants are inherently safe and how some of the terminology should be applied to them.  What I haven't covered is where the energy comes from. That's important because its the easiest way to explain why nuclear power will always beat out wind and solar. We started walking down the nuclear road after Einstein's famous equation E=MC^2. For those who don't read math it states that  the energy that can be produced from a given mass is the same as that mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light.  The speed of light is a big number so squaring that means that only  a little bit of mass is needed to make that change. you can find estimates around to try to get an idea of how much energy is in uranium but a pound of uranium contains as much energy as about 3 million tons of coal.

I'd rather not show the math for a fission reaction because fusion is simply easier and demonstrates the same principle. First lets look at a hydrogen from a periodic table.

Ok I lied that's deuterium an isotope of hydrogen containing an additional neutron. You can do the same thing with hydrogen but the result is a lot less stable and the math is more complex. So now were gonna grab some helium.

Were going to use  2 kilogram moles of deuterium to produce 1 kilogram mole of Helium. a kilogram weighs about 2.5 pounds so this is about 5 pounds of stuff. A mole basically is the atomic mass of something in the units I want to measure. It ensure a relatively consistent number of atoms for the reaction so I'm starting with 4.028 kg of deuterium and through fusion producing 4.002602 kg of Helium. so the math is 4.028 kg-4.002602 kg=.025398 kilograms of mass lost. not a whole hell of a lot of mass lost but all of it and I mean every bit of it is converted to energy. So pulling out Einsteins formula .025398*8.98755179*10^16 m^2/s^2, or 2.28*10^15 watts.

That's a shitload of energy but really doesn't mean jack to me. That's a number bigger than my comprehension so how long would that amount of energy power a 100 watt light bulb. so we take our value divide it by 100W*24 hours/day* 365days/yr.
(.025398*c^2)/(100*24*365)=2.6*10^9 years so our 5 pounds of stuff is capable of powering a lightbulb for 2.6 billion years. Granted the max efficiency is gonna be somewhere around say 40% so that 5 pounds of stuff will realistically only power that light bulb for around a billion years.  Lets leave it at a shitload of energy.

Of course that's fusion but fission reactor potential energy isn't that much different even if it was off by a factor of 100 its still crap loads of energy. That energy abundance is why we don't realistically have to worry about running out of energy and why we have plenty of time to figure out fusion. Uranium isnt the only fissile element, while its currently used in modern reactors there are other technologies available.

Currently research is resuming on molten salt and thorium reactors as the generation 4 technology. These reactor types were abandoned due to political pressure but they are actually safer and more abundant than current uranium reactors (fun fact uranium is more abundant than silver). Assuming a switch to these technologies it would mean that meltdowns would be even less likely to occur if not impossible.

Fun fact modern nuclear power costs are around 6-7cents per kilowatt hour coal and natural gas is about 3-5cents and wind and solar run around 12-20cents per kilowatt hour depending on the technology. with gen IV reactors looking to be cost comparable to coal i think we can kiss wind and solar goodbye..... without political intervention.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why Liberals Are Anti-Science part Douche (2): The Precautionary Principle

The reason I started this blog is that I have a crap load of knowledge on science, research and the like. The lack of understanding among the general populace is actually kind of irritating to me, rather than sit in a corner and moan about the world I'm going to do what I can to correct some of the misinformation or misunderstanding that's out there. Every once in a while I'll venture into politics, I'm not perfect, but the reality is I'm a scientist to my core. I know I don't reach a lot of people with this blog and I'm too stubborn to develop a larger network for greater visibility. If you like this article or agree with it repost it, because what follows is a discussion that should be thrown around whenever anyone starts saying conservatives are anti science.

Like I said before both republicans and democrats are "anti-science". The difference to me between liberals and conservatives is that conservative "anti-science" beliefs are essentially harmless.  Who gives a crap if some voter doesn't believe in the theory of everything or evolution. They might be idiots but they honestly aren't harming anyone but themselves.I think the only conservative position I have taken issue with is stem cell research and that's a question of ethics. If i was paralyzed and someone told me a fetus could let me walk again I'd head on down to the local abortion clinic with a blender in hand.  I clearly cant speak for everyone and i know that.

The thing about liberal "Anti-science" beliefs is that they are numerous. The crusades are against well established technologies and they cause people to die.  I'm not exaggerating, in addition to clear ignorance on climate change data there are lefty groups against all of the following technologies, each one is worthy of an article: Nuclear Power, Genetically Modified Organisms, Vaccines, Modern Farming Techniques, DDT, Electromagnetic Waves, Natural Gas and Fracking Technologies, Animal Husbandry,  Aqua Culture, Psychotherapy,  Cooked Food, Affordable Power technologies, and Oil Production. I mean I could go on, but really, do I need to? There are literally so many scientific technologies that liberals are against that I get to have a great laugh when they start protesting against one another. There was even a paper I saw in the past year of liberal groups promoting the idea that we should make food more expensive through legal regulation.

Silliness aside, and back on the issue of liberals killing people. What upsets me about this is the stance from those defending team blue. Ideas like 'it's not antiscience if you know and understand the principles of the theory and technology' isnt a defense to my challeng.  In my mind you are literally saying you understand that hunger,  disease and poverty can be cured or at the very least alleviated by these technologies but you would rather spend the time, effort, and energy protesting them. If you agree with that statement then you are literally saying that you sanction the deaths of millions of people on an ideological wet dream.

The reason for the slaughter is called the precautionary principle. At its core the precautionary principle goes like this, its OK to oppose something, because we don't know what the effects are gonna be down the line.  Sounds somewhat reasonable right? I mean you wouldn't want to do things to harm yourself or your children.

The problem is with all of those technologies I listed above, with climate change, Is that we really and truly do know. Much of the protested technology has been around for 50 years or more and liberal still actively form legal hurdles. All of them have been proven safe not just with actual practice but with tons of research. Even if it wasn't, which it is, just because you don't know whats going to happen 20 or 30 years or 60 years from now doesn't mean a chain of  events leading to disaster is likely or probable.

Do you know that guy? His name is Norman Borlaug and he won the Nobel prize for vastly improving crop yields through both new farming techniques and genetically engineering better strains of plants. He is kind of a big deal because he helped make crops grow in regions where they normally don't. See that at the core is what genetically modified organisms are for, we take useful characteristics and share them, even cross species which would be otherwise impossible. It's the same stupid thing that human beings have been doing with selective breeding, except its faster, more accurate and easily replicable. Sure we might make glow in the dark rabbits and monkeys but that's just for shits and giggles, and oh by the way I have actually done genetic engineering to make that glowing protein. No Tesla coils or other mad scientist stuff.

Yes its super creepy
So why would people protest better crop yields. Well for one there's always fear of contamination after all bees don't exactly stop at fences. But who would get mad at better crop yields? Monsanto has patent lawsuits over them sometimes but that's no reason to protest GMO's entirely. Of course there are risks like creating more resilient pests, but that doesnt stop us from producing or providing antibiotics, and even so why would you protest draught resistant crops? Well its that damn precautionary principle again. I mean what if something bad happens at some point due to the dna your eating today or what if it genetically modifies you?

Well folks your in for a treat, here's what happens when you eat something. First you cook it which essentially destroys or denatures most if not all of the proteins. It is then chewed, producing more surface area for the acids and enzymes in saliva to break down all those proteins. Then it hits the stomach acid which breaks it down even more. Almost to the point of containing no proteins at all. This slurry of amino acids (protein base components) then enters your intestines where more enzymes are secreted, basically destroying any remaining proteins. whatever sugars in that soup and amino acids are absorbed. What few proteins have survived your bodies best attempt to destroy them don't, because they are too damn big to pass through the membranes. So bacteria eat them and break them down further into other components which we can use.

In short what you eat is broken down to its fundamental components so that your body can make it into whatever thing it needs. See why would you have evolved over billions of years only to have to use the proteins that your food had. Do you have any idea how much and how varied our diet would have to be to survive that kind of requirement? It's ridiculous, by the time your body gets to use the tomato you ate it is no longer even remotely recognizable as a damn tomato GMO or not.

Do you know that guy? Well you should he's Louis Pasteur and kind of sort of the father of the modern vaccine as well as a whole slew of other amazing experiments. He is to microbiology what Galileo is to physics. What I'm trying to say here is vaccines are old, really old, like hundreds of years old.  You see he wasn't even the first person to consider inoculation. The concept of using an inert virus or bacteria to stop you from dying of well something super nasty may be as old as 3500 years. Vaccines are so effective that we have wiped some plagues from the face of the earth. They are so useful that you probably didn't have a friend stuck in an iron lung.  Who the hell would protest anything that is cheap and effective at stopping the nastiest of diseases?

Well the short answer is idiots.  I don't use that term lightly. See protestation of vaccines comes from some horribly misguided belief that the vaccine causes autism. As to why, well there was this study, which violated every scientific principle known to man, and was still published. It has since been retracted and no one I REPEAT NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN ABLE TO VERIFY, OR EVEN COME CLOSE TO A LINK BETWEEN THE TWO. There was also mercury in some of the earlier vaccines (hint: its actually a great preservative) which was in such small amounts as to be nonthreatening.  If you want to argue about that point I dare you to go read up on dosages and find me a scientific article showing it as a problem.

So now we have a situation where a bunch of idiots have actually caused outbreaks of diseases that we once had effectively bottled. Not just here in the US with outbreaks of whooping cough but in overseas countries. there is effort to delay or stop implementation in the third world through widespread fear campaigns. If you know someone in this movement and they truly know that all of the research says otherwise than punch them for me. I mean seriously give them a solid whack in the face, and if they didn't vaccinate their kid, infect them with polio. Its the best way to make a point.

This doesn't even touch on DDT. DDT is one of the safest, cheapest and most effective mosquito controls ever invented. Its one of the best ways to prevent malaria. It was banned in the US and many developing countries because it might have caused problems with bird populations. To be clear before DDT was invented bird populations were on the decline, and they recovered before dispersal was ever stopped. But even if it was a problem for birds, what is the loss of a few birds to save literally millions of people each year.

Do you want to know why so many Americans have a smartphone? Ill give you a hint it wasn't the greenies. What really helped America grow wealthy and prosperous was industry. The ability to process raw materials into useful goods.  I know it sounds crazy but that's why we burned fossil fuels. So logically if we want to help the third world out of poverty clearly the best approach is to let them industrialize. While coal and oil may not be the best sources of power they are the cheapest. Not in terms of fuel costs but in terms of capital costs. That means that more power can reach more people with coal oil and natural gas than wind, solar or even nuclear.

I said I oppose liberal groups because people die from their actions. I oppose them because they literally want to make life harder on people. Rather than pooling their money and resources to put up the projects they support they spend that capital trying to take other people down or buying votes. They use fear and misinformation to spread unscientific discourse, because frankly, fear works. They stand in the way when people attempt to build what they need. Does anyone really think that the Canadian oil sands aren't going to be developed if there is no keystone? The choices aren't to stop the project and help the planet vs jobs, its American jobs vs Chinese jobs. In the developing world its science and technology vs. death.

In the US we are rich relatively speaking, we can afford the luxury of medical care and exorbitant food pricing. That doesn't means its even remotely right to try to sell luxury ideas to starving nations. If we were to implement organic farming techniques over existing land we would only be able to feed about 4 billion people. With almost seven billion people in the world, if liberals know the scientific facts, it would be pleasant if they simply volunteered to die first.