Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe episode 238, AmSci and cars

Where isn't Lady Gaga these days?

What you may ask? Lady Gaga was a guest on the SGU?  Was she a guest Rogue?  No.  However, she was discussed on the show, but more on that later.

As always, the Rogues started the show with interesting science and skeptical news.  They discussed the official rebuke of Dr. Andrew Wakefield and the Lancet pulling his article connecting the MMR vaccine with autism.  The Rogues discussed how this is obviously welcome news, but at the same time has elevated Wakefield to martyrdom within the Jenny McCarthy set -- they are just trying to shut up an obvious voice of the truth, those big pharma and corporate medical shills.

The Rogues then covered that Dr. David Rosa, who is an assistant professor at Brown University, wrote a book about the 'death cat.'  This made the web rounds about two years ago; this cat taken in by a hospice center would seemly foretell the death of a patient when he chose to curl up next to them.  Kitty stakes his claim with you and soon death will visit.  (If this were so, then I do not know what to make of my cat's often sleeping ritual of curling up under my arm as if he were a gray furry football.  Am I doomed when he does not come over?)  Anyway, the Rogues discussed how this is likely explained by confirmation bias, and before an Ivy League physician would write such a book, a little more care into the subject matter should be exercised.

Bob discussed how we just might be on the brink of success of generating large amounts of energy from finally cracking the secret to hydrogen fusion.  This is hot fusion and not cold fusion, and it does look somewhat promising.  Although Bob is just super giddy with excitement over finally achieving this type of nuclear power for decades.  I was a bit disappointed that Bob did not indicate the need to spend billions on this type of continued research, but maybe the tenor of the times has altered Bob's views on the nation's purse strings.  If this does come to pass, and it can be done to be economically viable, this truly is a game changer, but I am not holding my breath.

One thing I was a bit surprised that the show did not cover was the de facto dismantling of the United States independent manned space program, but perhaps that is just too political a hot potato for the show to cover?* 

An email was answered asking the Rogues to "lay the skeptical smackdown" on the theory that Lady Gaga is a member of the illuminati.  The Rogues covered how all the tell tale signs are there for all to see that she is member of the illuninati -her often covering of one eye, her affinity for butterflies, and her wearing of "Hello, Kitty" shirt are all obvious nods to being a member of the world controlling cult.  Obviously, they were discussing this tongue firmly planted in cheek and it was very humorous.  This is where they should have called upon the expert skills of the mighty conspiracy skeptic himself, Karl Mamer, as they have called upon Dr. Pamela Gay or Phil Plait on past shows.  Alas, it is their loss.

The interview was with Professor Simon Conway Morris, who studies Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge.  At first, I thought this was a fine little interview, not exactly sure why he was booked but I was enjoying it.  It was sort of in the vein of when Dr. Rachel Dunlop covers a scientist doing real legitimate and often cutting edge medicine.  Good stuff, but not alway what the SGU is known for.  The Professor was discussing his idea that evolution is more convergent and less random than most biologists postulate.  Therefore, if and/or when we find extraterrestrial life somewhere else, it is likely to be very similar to how life looks and works on Earth.  The Professor and Dr. Novella went back and forth on some pros and cons for his ideas.  It was a fine little interview, but nothing that exciting and then Dr. Novella asked on the downward slope of the interview if there was something else going on here, and if there was something driving this convergence.  

The professor became rather coy, at least that is how I took it.  The interview moved to what is consciousness, and while he noted that many prominent scientists thought everything we need to know to understand we have before us, he disagreed.  He explained as a possible and admittedly crude analogy that our brains are the radio receivers for consciousness, but when our heads are chopped off the radio is off, but the radio signal continues.  The professor took pains to indicate upon Dr. Novella's questioning that he was not sure who or what that broadcast was nor was he making a supernatural pleading.  He did indicate that in his opinion while we know a lot more than we have in anytime in the past, there is likely a whole lot more that we do not know.  On the one hand, I want to take the professor at his word that he is not making an argument for a creator, but it sure sounds as if he is making an argument for some creative force in nature, some type of 'rough' designer.  

Clearly, Dr. Novella knew what he was asking when he did.  I also had the feeling the Professor was somewhat reluctant to tackle this line of thought.  Do not get me wrong, if there turns out to be evidence for something else out there driving everything so be it.  However, I also suspect wittingly or unwittingly the Professor's convergence ideas on biology as a whole could be fodder for the Discovery Institute and their ilk.

It was an interesting interview at the end of the day.


Continuing my discussion of other non-skeptical podcasts that I listen to regularly, I listen to two automotive-oriented podcasts.  The first one is CNET's Car Tech Live.  Until recently this was a pure podcast-only show, but recently switched to the increasingly popular live web-video format with rebroadcast in podcast form.  The show is anchored by Brian Cooley, and featuring Auntuan Goodwin, and Wayne Cunningham.  The focus of the show is car technology... these days heavily on electric and hybrid vehicles and cabin technology.  The show goes into great detail on the stereo, navigation, cell phone, and web technology present in every growing complexity in modern cars.  The show ends with a test drive of a new usually tech laden vehicle driven by Goodwin and Cunningham.  I enjoy the show a great deal, and I love to compare the show's West Coast (San Francisco) automotive thought with the other automotive podcast I follow Autoline After Hours which is based out of Detroit.  

Autoline is an hour long show hosted by John McElroy along with Peter De Lorenzo and Andy Moldero.  This show is chock full of all sorts of inside baseball discussion not just on the cars themselves, but also the ins and outs of corporate leadership, advertising, and some just plain gossip.  While I think there might be a cross over skeptic/car interest in Car Tech Live, Autoline is clearly for automotive junkies.  I do not mean how to soup up your car or replace your exhaust, but for people who follow the automotive industry and business.  Sometimes there is a cross over with some skeptical covered topics as when on the SGU they discussed the idea of changing out the battery pack in an electric car to power up rather than wait for a recharge.  Shortly after this discussion this approach was discussed on Autoline, and while they thought the idea was good, it is in many practical ways unworkable.  I enjoy this show a great deal, but I doubt many other skeptics would be as drawn in as I.  I could be wrong.  



*Brian Thompson did tackle this topic on his latest Amateur Scientist Podcast.  He seemed to be mocking those unhappy with the President's decision to axe Constellation, and in favor of the President's decision.   While I disagree with Thompson's sentiments in this regard and am quite troubled by this turn of events at NASA, I am glad he covered it on his show.  He also did his ask Yahoo! answers bit by using it to answer the question on how to become a vampire.  Other bits included Osama Bin Laden giving sage advice on the environment, and being a Noam Chomsky fan.  Also, Thompson is launching a phone line, which he is able to do with a nearly acquired Google voice account. He is asking listeners to phone in the most offensive word definitions they find in the Meiram Webster's Dictionary. He ended the episode with a bit on how to teach a panda ebonics.  It was a good episode, but it was not Thompson's best.  I enjoyed the Yahoo! answers segment a great deal, and Bin Laden being a Chomsky fan.  Although I am not sure how well the Webster's Dictionary is going to turn out, I hope to be pleasantly surprised.  Maybe it was being woozy from all the shoveling, but the panda ebonics was flat for me.  Not every week can have the "my side hurts" hilarity of his opening jilted girlfriend segment from the previous week, but that's okay.  It's okay.  

10 comments:

  1. Cold fusion is much more promising than hot fusion. If you do not think so, I suggest you read some of the mainstream peer-reviewed journal papers describing cold fusion results. See:

    http://lenr-canr.org

    Many people who call themselves skeptics claim that cold fusion was never replicated or that it was disproved. These people have not read the literature; they are not skeptical but ignorant.

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  2. Jed could you name three papers one should read first? IE what papers in your view offer the best evidence?

    It's not so much that cold fusion has never been replicated, it's that no one seems to be able to replicate it reliably following the described method. That to me is always a red flag.

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  3. You wrote:

    "Jed could you name three papers one should read first? IE what papers in your view offer the best evidence?"

    I think papers by McKubre, Miles, Storms, Szpak or Dardik are convincing. There are number of them. Some are quite technical and may be difficult to follow, while others are summaries and conference slides. Look in the author index.

    For an overview, here is a recent summary by Duncan, the prof. featured on "60 Minutes" last year:

    http://iccf15.frascati.enea.it/ICCF15-PRESENTATIONS/S1_O2_Duncan.pdf

    This section has an overview paper plus ~50 of the papers referenced in it:

    http://lenr-canr.org/Collections/DoeReview.htm


    "It's not so much that cold fusion has never been replicated, it's that no one seems to be able to replicate it reliably following the described method. That to me is always a red flag."

    That is incorrect in two ways. First, there is not only one described method. There is the original electrochemical method, gas loading, ion-beam loading, co-deposition, and many other methods. Second, this is a terribly difficult experiment. Only experts in well-equipped labs can do it. But the ones who are good at it, at places like Toyota and the NRL, can now make it happen just about every time. Kidwell (NRL) has automated equipment that runs nanoparticle samples from scratch, loading and de-loading them, hundreds of times in a row. The effect appeared every time with similar intensity, which is astounding. It works because they developed wonderful nifty material! "Palladium nanoparticles inside an aluminosilicate matrix." 1990s cold fusion cathodes are stone age in comparison. See:

    http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/KidwellDdoesgasloa.pdf

    Some techniques work reliably; others are sporadic. Some products are relatively easy to measure, such as heat and tritium. Other products such as helium require expensive, specialized mass spectrometers, such as this one:

    http://lenr-canr.org/Experiments.htm#PhotosENEAFrascati

    Some experiments require multimillion dollar specialized equipment, such as a linear accelerator or the Jap. National Synchrotron. Others can be done with a few hundred thousand dollars of conventional lab equipment. All techniques require skill and experience.

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  4. "But the ones who are good at it, at places like Toyota"

    Japan is a nation not very rich in energy resources. Cold fusion would be of great interest to Japanese industry. Toyota is ostensibly researching it. They've been for how many decades? Most scientific fields, if there's true meat to a theory, in the span of 20 years it goes from highly theoretical to the university departments teaching it and industrial applications. We've seen none of this with cold fusion.

    That a massive corporation like Toyota with vast resources and vast need for cheap clean energy has yet to run so much as a single factory on cold fusion to me is another red flag.

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  5. Cold fusion strikes, at best, something like the piezoelectric effect (stressing quartz releases energy). It's a real effect, it's interesting, but it won't scale. At least not in our life time. We're not going to run a city on it.

    Your DOE review doesn't seem all that pro cold fusion either. It seems to follow what I think anyone would rationally conclude: let's devote some resources to it but nothing has really fundamentally changed since 1989.

    Also you gave me a list of names of scientists but I asked "name three papers" Could you give me three actual peer reviewed papers that you believe represent the best evidence? No doubt these scientists have published many papers on cold fusion but I don't want to have to guess which of their many publications you view as the strongest. So if you could specifically spell out the three best peer reviewed papers, that would be swell.

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  6. Puffin Watch wrote:

    "Most scientific fields, if there's true meat to a theory, in the span of 20 years it goes from highly theoretical to the university departments teaching it and industrial applications."

    First, cold fusion is not based on theory. It is an experimental discovery.

    Second, you never know how long it will take to go from discovery to practice. Semiconductors took 30 years, from the 1920s to 1952. Electric motors took 50 years. Nuclear energy took 35 years and only succeeded then because it was massively funded in the Manhattan Project. The U.S. has poured billions every year into plasma fusion for 60 years but it will supposedly take another 30 years. High temperature superconductors were discovered at the same time as cold fusion but they have not made much progress.
    Third, cold fusion has barely been funded because of academic politics. In 20 years, cold fusion has gotten roughly as much as plasma fusion gets in one month, or the space station gets in one day. Most experts agree that it would take roughly $300 to $500 million to make cold fusion into a practical source of energy, based on similar breakthroughs. There is less than $1 million per year of funding in the U.S., so there is no chance it will be developed here. Fortunately, there is increasing funding in China and Italy.


    "We've seen none of this with cold fusion."

    If you knew how hard it is you would be amazed at how much progress has been made.


    "That a massive corporation like Toyota with vast resources and vast need for cheap clean energy has yet to run so much as a single factory on cold fusion to me is another red flag."

    That would be like expecting people to run a factory on uranium in 1925.


    "Cold fusion strikes, at best, something like the piezoelectric effect (stressing quartz releases energy). It's a real effect, it's interesting, but it won't scale."

    The power has scaled up thousands of times already. (Actually, the cathodes have been scaled down by a factor of ~100 or so, and the power has increased by a factor of ~10.)

    The energy has been produced continuously in amounts far greater than any possible chemical or mechanical storage effect. That is to say, a cathode weighing a few grams has produced ~100 W continuously for 3 months. At 100 W, a few grams of the most potent chemical fuel would be used up in a few minutes.


    "At least not in our life time. We're not going to run a city on it."

    You have no basis for thinking that.


    "Your DOE review doesn't seem all that pro cold fusion either."

    It is sharply divided.

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  7. Puffin Watch also wrote:

    "Also you gave me a list of names of scientists but I asked 'name three papers' Could you give me three actual peer reviewed papers that you believe represent the best evidence?"

    Well . . . J. Electroanal. Chem. has probably published the most papers. Covering a range of topics:

    Packham, N.J.C., et al., Production of tritium from D2O electrolysis at a palladium cathode. J. Electroanal. Chem., 1989. 270: p. 451

    Will, F.G., K. Cedzynska, and D.C. Linton, Reproducible tritium generation in electrochemical cells employing palladium cathodes with high deuterium loading. J. Electroanal. Chem., 1993. 360: p. 161.

    McKubre, M.C.H., et al., Isothermal Flow Calorimetric Investigations of the D/Pd and H/Pd Systems. J. Electroanal. Chem., 1994. 368: p. 55.

    Miles, M., Calorimetric studies of Pd/D2O+LiOD electrolysis cells. J. Electroanal. Chem., 2000. 482: p. 56.

    Unfortunately most of these and other peer-reviewed papers are not available in the LENR-CANR library because of copyright restrictions. I think we have McKubre and Miles. Not sure about the others. We have similar papers from these authors, with similar titles.


    "No doubt these scientists have published many papers on cold fusion but I don't want to have to guess which of their many publications you view as the strongest."

    This is not theory. There is not one breakthrough, or Eureka moment. In experimental science, nothing is real until it is replicated, and the more replications you have with different instrument types, the more convincing it gets. You might say the reality of it gradually takes shape, or comes into focus. The papers are mutually supportive. So you have to read many of them to get a feel for the subject.

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  8. By the way, "plasma fusion" = hot fusion. And they are not getting billions per year, only hundreds of millions. See:

    http://aries.ucsd.edu/FPA/OFESbudget.shtml

    MFE = Magnetic confinement (Tokamak)
    ICF = Inertial confinement fusion

    This was linked to from the plasma fusion lobby:

    http://fusionpower.org

    I doubt that cold fusion has gotten as much as $10 million in the U.S. since 1989. The only major funding it ever got was from the State of Utah, for the National Cold Fusion Institute (NCFI), for several million bucks. (I don't recall how much). This was some of the best-spent money in the history of science. The NCFI produced magnificent, definitive proof that cold fusion produces tritium, which is proof that it is a nuclear process. They really nailed it! See Will et al. referenced above.

    If people had paid any attention the NCFI results everyone would agree that cold fusion is a real nuclear process. Unfortunately, most people have the mistaken notion that the project failed. It was shut down by intense academic political opposition, and ridiculed and attacked in the mass media after that.

    Academic researchers are the most ruthless political animals I have ever encountered. And I have met some nasty people, such as Japanese yakuza and unreformed Japanese Imperial Army officers. (I went to college in Japan.) Academic scientists will say or do anything to gut a rival's funding or derail his career by denying tenure. I think it is because most research is ignored. Nobody catches their mistakes. As Woodrow Wilson put it, "academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."

    I don't believe in the crackpot opposition to global warming, but I can understand how people get the idea that professors are corrupt.

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  9. Jed in your own knol on the subject you introduce at least six possible theories to explain cold fusion. I'm not sure why you keep getting hung up on my use of "theory".

    ||That would be like expecting people to run a factory on uranium in 1925.||

    Technology wasn't very advanced in 1925. Today, I would think significant progress could be made in 20 years.

    So some fields take 50 years to go from theoretical to practical. We should be dead in the middle of that curve. We're no where near even that with cold fusion. According to the DoE report nothing has much changed since 1989.

    ||The power has scaled up thousands of times already.||

    Again, so what? Could it be scaled up another 1000 times to power a city within my life time?

    ||"Your DOE review doesn't seem all that pro cold fusion either."

    It is sharply divided.||

    But what's key is the conclusion. Nothing has changed since 1989. I'm not a physicist. I'm only a voter. Do I want my government backing hot fusion or cold fusion? The scientific consensus seems to be hot fusion but let's not ignore cold fusion. That seems entirely reasonable to me.

    If we are to believe you, one big corporation is working on it. The DoE seems to conclude we shouldn't ignore this avenue of research. A reputable industry journal (J. Electroanal. Chem.) seems to publish the best research. I'm fully satisfied by the current state of affairs.

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  10. Puffin Watch wrote:

    "Jed in your own knol on the subject you introduce at least six possible theories to explain cold fusion. I'm not sure why you keep getting hung up on my use of 'theory'."

    The issue is that cold fusion is an experimental discovery not predicted by or explained by theory. So progress can only occur by Edisonian methods, which are slower then theory-based development, such as occurred with the laser.


    "||That would be like expecting people to run a factory on uranium in 1925.||

    Technology wasn't very advanced in 1925. Today, I would think significant progress could be made in 20 years."

    Then you might think we would have plasma fusion reactors and HTSC, but we don’t. People do not think any faster than they did in 1925. Very significant progress has occurred in cold fusion, but many problems remain. It is far ahead of plasma fusion, and far closer to a practical source of energy, even though funding has been thousands of times lower.


    "So some fields take 50 years to go from theoretical to practical. We should be dead in the middle of that curve. We're no where near even that with cold fusion."

    You are wrong about that.


    "According to the DoE report nothing has much changed since 1989."

    The DoE report is wrong, in my opinion. This is beyond the scope of the discussion but if you want the details as to why I think that, I can e-mail you a 40-page critique written by Melich and me.


    "||The power has scaled up thousands of times already.||

    Again, so what? Could it be scaled up another 1000 times to power a city within my life time?"

    If the researchers learn to control the reaction then scaling up will be a trivial problem. Temperatures and power density have already achieved levels equivalent to a fission reactor core. Manufacturing is no more difficult than making batteries. It could be scaled up to produce all of the energy on earth in a few years. Researchers have made good progress in control, but they are not there yet.


    "It is sharply divided.||

    But what's key is the conclusion. Nothing has changed since 1989."

    That conclusion is political, and blatantly at odds with the fact.


    "I'm not a physicist. I'm only a voter. Do I want my government backing hot fusion or cold fusion? The scientific consensus seems to be hot fusion but let's not ignore cold fusion."

    The consensus in the U.S. is political, not scientific. It is to ignore cold fusion and deny funding. The DoE ignored its panel’s recommendations.


    "If we are to believe you, one big corporation is working on it."

    Corporations are also political, and they make mistakes. DEC, Data General and nearly all other computer companies stood by and let personal computer makers put them out of business. GM drove itself into bankruptcy. There are many other examples.


    "The DoE seems to conclude we shouldn't ignore this avenue of research. A reputable industry journal (J. Electroanal. Chem.) seems to publish the best research. I'm fully satisfied by the current state of affairs."

    I do not think it is wise to do nothing and let China and other nations develop what is potentially the most important technology in history. The Defense Intelligence Agency agrees with me. See their report on the main page.

    ReplyDelete

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