Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

The Folly Of Big Science Prizes

October 6, 2015

The New York Times published an article with that idea, a recurring theme on this site. It had very interesting content, adding to my general position, which the Times had the unusual kindness to publish. Here it is:

Why science prizes? To create celebrities in science, and thus, to make science famous, some point out.

But surely the reason for science ought not to be fame, but the search for truth? Therein the problem: using the celebrity principle, that fame matters most, one overwhelms the very reason for science, which is that truth matters most.

Prizes in science teach the identification of fame with truth.

We Are Far From Understanding Sun’s Thermonuclear Physics. Coronal Mass Ejection, Aug. 31, 2012. Such a CME Would Wreck Civilization, If Pointed At Earth

We Are Far From Understanding Sun’s Thermonuclear Physics. Coronal Mass Ejection, Aug. 31, 2012. Such a CME Would Wreck Civilization, If Pointed At Earth

Civilization depends upon truth, thus science. The confusion between fame and truth brought the near-collapse of civilization before.

Aristotle (320 BCE) taught physics which was obviously false (Aristotle taught that a force had to be continually applied for continuous motion; Buridan overturned this in 1320 CE). I have argued that the very fact that Aristotle’s physics was obviously false taught the suspension of common sense (and that was exactly what the powers that be wanted!)

However, because Aristotle was immensely famous, his false physics was viewed as the obvious truth. In turn, because Aristotle’s physics was so stupendous, Aristotle’s erroneous ideas in politics (that monarchy, thus dictatorship, was the best political system) were viewed as obviously true, too. In turn, these false ideas were used to demolish the idea of the Republic for more than two millennia.

Hence we can see who confusing fame with science advantages: those who view fame as the end all, be all. Naturally enough, celebrities set-up prizes to celebrate celebrity. In turn, such people are the best and most obsequious servants to the established order. And this is exactly why, throughout history, some of the worst tyrants have heaped praise on the few (and especially those they made famous).

There are more huge prizes in science nowadays, because some of the most influential people in the world today have a very dark, sinister and troubling relationship with science.

In turn a reader, “RamS”, had the kindness to offer the following compliment: “This is the best comment, and this is the real issue the author is worried about. It is not the prize but the fame that comes with…”

Here is how The Folly of Big Science Awards, by VINAY PRASADOCT started:

“On Monday, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will go to a few scientists for work that untangles the intricacies of the human body and may advance treatments for cancer, heart disease or other major illnesses. The prize comes with a sizable check and virtually ensures that the winners’ research will be well funded for the rest of their careers.

Every recent recipient has undoubtedly deserved the honor. But that doesn’t mean that prizes for medical research are a good idea.

The Nobel, along with the Dickson, Lasker-DeBakey, Canada Gairdner and other major awards, honors the scientists who are usually in the least need of recognition and funding, which squeezes out opportunities for other scientists.

More important, by emphasizing the importance of scientific breakthroughs — serendipitous occurrences that rely on decades of research — these prizes play down, and diminish, the way that great medical advances build on one another.

All scholarship is, to some extent, built on prior work — but this is especially true in scientific research.”

This is exactly why I have fought the hyper celebrity status of Copernicus and Newton. Copernicus’ work, viewed on a historical scale, is little more than plagiarism from Buridan (who was madatorily taught at the university where Copernicus was an undergraduate). Similarly, although Newton was giant, he invented neither his so-called first nor second law (that was Buridan again), nor the universal attraction law (as he himself insisted he did not).

Mis-attributing discoveries is not just a question of justice. It is a question of falsifying the causality chain of evidence, and the very way the human mind works. Thus it undermines science, by giving the impression “excellence” is just a matter of the solitary genius. In truth, “excellence” is a matter of civilization.

Actually Ms. Tu, who just got the Nobel in Medicine, pointed this out. By reading a two thousand year old treaty, she had realized that her method of preparation — boiling the wormwood — damaged the active ingredient. She then prepared it using an ether-based solvent, which boils at 35 degrees Celsius. When tested on mice and monkeys, it proved 100 percent effective.

Dr. Tu, with two colleagues, were the first human subjects. Suffering no ill effects, she conducted clinical trials with patients.

“We had just cured drug-resistant malaria,” Dr. Tu told New Scientist in an interview in 2011,“we were very excited.”

In spite of her very important success, Dr. Tu was later shunned by the Chinese scientific establishment, for her lack of a PhD. The “PhD” is a stamp certifying one belongs to a tribe.

However, researchers who are truly extremely original tend to not have a network, or less of a network (“scientists” and “thinkers” always exist; simply, in some periods of history, lasting centuries or more, they can all be wrong, in no small part from pleasing the oligarchies above… When the oligarchies themselves do not think that they think enough for all of society… As seems to be happening in the West presently, from lack of a dissenting intellectual class!)

Prasad gives a detailed example of how celebritism masks the thinking process:

“Consider James P. Allison, the winner of this year’s Lasker-DeBakey prize in clinical medical research. His work helped clarify one way cancer cells hide from the immune system.

Around 1990, a team of scientists found a protein on the surface of immune cells and proposed that it stimulated the immune system. Dr. Allison’s lab and a third group suggested that the protein put the brakes on immune responses. A fourth group confirmed that it halted the immune system, rather than stimulating it. Dr. Allison later showed that blocking this protein with an antibody could unleash an immune response in animals that could lead not only to rejection of but also immunity to many kinds of cancers. A decade later, similar antibodies to this protein and other related ones were found to prevail against several types of human cancers.

Dr. Allison’s work is surely impressive. But it occurred alongside and in dialogue with a number of related findings. Researchers analyzed the citations that led to Dr. Allison’s drug and concluded that it relied on work conducted by 7,000 scientists at 5,700 institutions over a hundred-year period. Yet only he was recognized.”

People are social primates, they are ambitious. The most meditative and contemplative ones tend to produce the breakthroughs, those who are more ambitious tend to exploit them.

Prasad: “The prize industry contributes to a deeper problem in scientific research: We throw resources at a privileged few who have already achieved enormous fame.

…80 percent of research funds in basic medical sciences are concentrated among the top fifth of researchers… We especially need to dispel this myth now because the scientific community is in the midst of a replication crisis. Nearly all published medical papers report significant or positive results, but many efforts to duplicate the findings failed… The regular occurrence of false leads also hints at the enormous role serendipity plays in discoveries, which some Nobel Prize winners have acknowledged in their acceptance speeches. In one study of 101 basic science discoveries published in top journals that claimed a drug had promise, just five led to approved drugs.

… science is hard. It’s like exploring an unknown land; we’ll never know whether over the next hill lies an expansive vista or just another hill. A finding that seems mundane or trivial may become immensely important years later… Or we could break up big prizes and give out many smaller awards. This may be more effective in supporting science, a view shared by Terence Tao, a mathematician who won $3 million from the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics but tried to talk the man who gave it to him into spreading it around to more people. Alternately, instead of giving out big science awards, let’s use the prize money to study better ways to fund science.”

I have excoriated the Breakthrough Prize (although Tao himself is a great mathematician competing with computers… Some of the “discoveries” that prize celebrated are probably… errors).

Prize money is not about science. It’s about celebrating the oligarchic principle. If we want a great scientific society, we need a great scientific mood, all over the land. And that means, first of all, no BS.

Today the physics Nobel was given for the oscillation of neutrinos. For the reason that authorities (of physics) had proclaimed neutrinos had no mass (that augmented the authorities of the authorities, as they were talking as if they were gods), it had been decided neutrinos could not oscillate (until major discrepancies were found in the Sun’s output).

Can we colonize Mars? Interestingly, there is a connection with a refined knowledge of neutrino physics. At least, so I think.

We do not just like science, because our species evolved into truth machines. Truth has always been necessary to, although not sufficient for, survival. With existing technology, and the eight billion humans we enjoy, we can neither quite colonize Mars, nor survive on Earth (except as a much more reduced population).

Science is not a call, it’s a life raft. The one and only. And thus less folly in its financing is not just a question of reason, but of morality. Pure and simple.

Patrice Ayme’

Juicy Planets

August 15, 2015

This is the one thousandth essay on this site. Let’s celebrate with a whiff of optimism. We found, for sure, three habitable planets. Close-by. And maybe four. Or five. Europa, Callisto, Ganymede, and Enceladus. They are all in the Solar System. Why habitable? Because they all have liquid water.

And massive quantities of it. Europa’s ocean seems greater in volume than Earth’s… by a long shot. Ganymede’s ocean maybe 800 kilometers deep… This is astronomy, in full, with its proverbial astronomical numbers.

Juicy Planets In The Habitable Zone

Juicy Planets In The Habitable Zone

The total land area of Earth’s continents is 148,647,000 square kilometers (57,393,000 sq mi), or 29.1% of Earth’s surface. This is just a tiny bit larger than Mars’ total area (145 million square kilometers). Mars has lots of water. However, except for (rock covered) glaciers and ice caps, most of it is ice mixed with the soil.

It is welcome news that planetary bodies close-by have plenty of water, and land. Europa’s land area is 30 million square kilometers. Ganymede is 87, and Callisto 73 million square kilometers. Thus the total land area of water loaded Jupiter satellites is 190 million square kilometers, much larger than the grand total of Earth’s continents. That’s plenty of room for human civilization to expand into.

As I related, civilizations come and go, and one of the main mechanisms, if not the main mechanism, has to do with the entangled exhaustion of increasingly impotent technology and waning resources. This is fully in evidence now in our case: although not all resources are exhausted, yet, others are exhausting: the CO2 pollution, and similar, entangled crises, have reached the stage of a mass extinction.

A race is engaged between the deployment of more renewable energy and multiple singularities from pollution and resource exhaustion.

Once, when still a child, I met a poet and philosopher from a family of poets and philosophers. He read some poems. I was impressed. The conversation, though, turned to space exploration. My youthful enthusiasm was quickly dashed. The poet told me that space would not help humanity’s problems. Actually throwing money at space prevented to feed children, he opined. Walking on the Moon was mostly a folly darkly connected to imperialism, colonialism, materialism, nihilism.

As a teen, but a teen experienced from having lived in Africa most of my life, who had endured through wars and coups d’état, I doubted the wisdom of the poet. (When I was 11 years old, I made a sing-song about a coup d’état enfolding in the African country in which I lived. Retrospectively strange…)

I knew very well that there are monsters out there. But then, again, I also knew monsters, properly handled, could learn to behave properly. A leopard entered an open hut I was sleeping in, and walked out (don’t ask me about what I view as my parents’ irresponsibility: there was just another child in that hut, smack dab in the center of a national park, full of panthers). I once walked around a bend on a dirt road, in the same national park, to find a lion spread all across said road, looking at me calmly. I did not panic, and respected away.  

Differently from the European poet, I knew the world was richer than just a zero sum (where what you put in is what you get out). I knew starvation was entirely due to war. If you don’t want children to starve, the first thing needed is a strong stater, with a constitution centered on human rights (instead of the Catholic or Islamist creeds).

As it turned out, in its rush to the Moon, and Mars, as ordered by its Guide (USA president JFK), NASA and its Nazi engineers, helped develop plenty of new technologies, from fuel cells to solar panels. Now Photo Voltaic Solar energy is, with wind turbines, the cheapest, safest form of energy (fossil fuels get more than 5 trillion dollars of subsidies, each year). In a way PV solar energy is feeding the world, and saving it too, being non polluting. Solar PV arose in space, to feed satellites with electricity.

To this day PV energy panels used in space are much more efficient than any used on the ground (but also much more expensive, as they use different very expensive materials). The research goes on: the requirements of space did not just bring Teflon.  The technological push impelled by space exploration keeps on going. The giant infrared telescope NASA wants to launch (with an Ariane V rocket!) has been delayed for years by setbacks while developing new technology to make it possible. Engineers have perfected the efficiency of space probes and solar PV, to do away with plutonium to energize them.

Far from being weird and unusual, expanding human civilization throughout the Solar System is the most conservative behavior to behold.

It’s revolutionary in the sense of evolving again, as we used to.

Indeed, how did our species arise? Our family, hominidae, arose from a separation from chimpanzee like ancestors. Basically, our distant ancestors were motivated enough to come down from the trees and imitate baboons (giant or not), and conquer the savanna. Giant baboons, who could weigh up to 200 kilograms, and stand two meter tall, besides being extremely dangerous, were probably an inspiration, as they dominated the savanna-park.

Conquering new land, and new environments, is what our species does. Our species shipped to Australia in prehistoric times, and conquered the Americas, and the Arctic, also in prehistoric times.

Now the juicy planets of Jupiter beckon. This summer, Europe attributed to Airbus the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE), to launch in 2022, and NASA announced that its “Europa Clipper” mission was feasible. It will “clip” Europa’s atmosphere 45 times, to analyze it for organic materials.

Some may object that, before we conquer space, we could conquer the oceans. It seems an obvious extension from swimming. However, going to space means a difference of one atmosphere of pressure, just as going down ten meters in water. Going down in the ocean at its average depth, 6,000 meters, means 600 atmospheres of pressure, a much greater challenge than the one and only one of pressure difference space requires.

With present technology, extrapolated a bit, Earth’s life could be implanted in these icy moons of Jupiter, one way, or another. It’s imaginable that present day life, recently discovered 850 kilometers from the lighted ocean, under Antarctica’s ice shelves, could survive in Europa’s ocean.

And it will need to. It’s not just a question of our nature, and respecting it. Or of our tradition, Charles Quint’s “Plus Oultre”, and respecting them. It’s a precaution. We are using Earth far beyond sustainability. Yet, out there, in proximal space, lays in waiting another 230% worth of the entire land area of Earth, complete with abundant water.

After 1,000 essays on this site (and more on, what’s the obvious verdict?

If you want to be popular, write about simple things, for simple people, in the most simple fashion. Cats, witchcraft, celebrities, flowers, home remedies, and logic for the mentally underperforming. People want to forget about their condition: those who are going to die do not salute me.

Another dismal conclusion is that censorship is strong, out there: the New York Times boast of having censored hundreds of my comments (they sent me an email about that). It’s more like thousands. The Guardian, a British daily supposedly on the left, just informed me I my comments were censored, because I am culprit of “blogging the Qur’an“. So the Guardian has decreed that Patrice Ayme, is a well-known… Jihadist? Complain about something will get you accused of it: one of the logics of the vicious.

The New York ran a long article on Islam Rape Kit, but systematically censored any direct quote from the Qur’an supporting that criminal habit. To blare as a subtitle that:

“ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape. Claiming the Quran’s support, the Islamic State codifies sex slavery in conquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool.” is alright. Claiming that ISIS claims the “Quran’s support” is fine. Demonstrating it is presumably “Islamophobia” (thus racism, thus censored).

Meanwhile, pretty much unfazed, I have been trying to think, as honestly as I can, precisely, and beyond (“plus oultre“) what has been said, on the most difficult problems, trying to find possible issues to them. Escapism, if you will, the hard way. As Montaigne caustically preempted, in the introduction to his “Essays”, paraphrasing:”Passant passes ton chemin, there is nothing for you here, Adieu.” (Amusingly, Montaigne, who was familiar with the most powerful, such as the future king Henri IV, was actually seriously manipulative in his essays, as demonstrated by the fact that he spent lots of pages crawling on his belly, singing the praises of most plutocrats… This is not the case here, as witness the evidence that I should have antagonized everybody by now.) 

Ultimately, I write just for my little girl, who has called me (with a slight twinge of irony perceptible) “the One Who Knows Everything”. That’s good enough, it’s the greatest honor, and all the meaning one needs in the world. Camus claimed one must find a meaning to rock and roll. Silly. Those who love a child do not need to impose meaning onto themselves. They have found it already.

One day, human children will bathe on Europa.

Patrice Ayme’

Tech, Science, Thinking, Stalled By Plutocracy

May 26, 2015


Technology, Energy, Science, Economy all entangled, & Stalled:

Some have observed tech is bringing up more hype than progress: we did not get flying cars, but 140 characters. Productivity is stagnating. The Internet hype led a devolution of thinking, for all to see. Some sites seem popular, mostly because they induce a parody of thinking (even on “academic” sites).

Against the will to stupidity, genius roars in vain.

So much of the “high Tech” is not truly high tech, or at least new tech. It’s no big deal, indeed. The “high tech” monopolies, with their “big data” will allow to make with robots what our ancestors used to have with domesticated animals (an ass, horse, or an ox are clever, and respond to voice commands, like the day after tomorrow’s robots).

There is not enough financing of the possible avenues of futuristic research. Here is one:

Real high tech would mean progress in energy production: this is the core of what defines our species. An obvious possibility, indeed, is thermonuclear fusion. H-Bombs work splendidly, and are very small. Making a thermonuclear engine has been difficult, but propulsion in space could turn around a lot of the difficulty we presently have.

Krugman noticed some of this in “The Big Meh” [I sent wise comments, therefore all censored by the New York Times; the Times later sent me kindly an unsolicited letter to justify its censorship; there is no excuse: the New York Times should not censor serious and cogent comments, this is a misuse of technology].

Krugman: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”… began with some technology snark, dismissing Earth as a planet whose life-forms “are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”… Since then we’ve moved on to much more significant things, so much so that the big technology idea of 2015, so far, is a digital watch…

O.K., I’m snarking, too. But there is a real question here. Everyone knows that we live in an era of incredibly rapid technological change, which is changing everything. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? And I’m not being wildly contrarian here. A growing number of economists, looking at the data on productivity and incomes, are wondering if the technological revolution has been greatly overhyped — and some technologists share their concern.”

We evolved as a technological species: weapon and tool usage precedes the apparition of Homo:

Technology preceded the apparition of Homo Erectus, two million years ago. So we can only conclude that technology, and its attached science, and scientific method, created the ecological niche in which Homo, even homo Erectus, evolved.

The fundamental evolutionary niche our very distant ancestors, pre-Homo Erectus, chose was to improve the quantity and quality of energy at our disposal. They went to explore, far from trees and cliffs, armed with stone tools and weapons, with a bias towards a much more carnivorous diet.

Technology and science are us. This is as human as we get. That does not mean anything goes. Just, that’s how humanity gets going.

Thus, our very evolution is entangled with our mastery of energy. Neanderthals used coal (lignite!) already 80,000 years ago. When our ancestors learned to domesticate animals and then invented agriculture, we improved our mastery of energy considerably. In the last 2,000 years, wood was progressively replaced by fossil fuels.

However, fossil fuels have become unsustainable. It is not just that they have put so much CO2 in the lower atmosphere, warming it, melting the ice, rising the seas, and into the ocean, making it acid.

The Return On Investment (ROI) of fossil fuels is now terrible. Major oil companies do not make much profits on new fields: they cost too much to find and exploit. Fracking makes money, but only because the states, and others, pay the price. Remember: 5.3 trillion dollars of fossil fuel subsidies out there.

However progress in economic matters is all about ROI in energy. Without energy we have no food, no shelter, we die.

We don’t have flying cars because we did not improve our mastery of energy as much as that would require (the very first plane, part of a French military program, did not fly very far: it used a heavy steam plant; shortly after, the internal combustion engine allowed to take-off more clearly; right now Airbus sells an electric plane, and intents to develop that technology much further).

Fundamental progress in energy technology has been stalled by lack of advances in fission, fusion, and batteries. Only solar photovoltaics is making really spectacular progress.

This stalling of major technological progress where it counts, in energy management is why society, and the planet, are threatened. This stalling is directly related to a dearth of fundamental research funding, itself related to the rise of a non-tax paying plutocracy. We are in whirlpool of disaster, and the greed of an oligarchy is its nature.

Patrice Ayme’

P/S: Latest News: Amazon Inc. just announced it would stop hiding its European profits in Luxembourg, and would set-up tax paying subsidiaries in various countries: it was threatened by incoming British and French laws. However, skepticism is widespread about the fine print in Amazon’s proposal…

The future was not stalled in the past: Contrarily to what happened around the era from, say, 1900 to 1970, when many futuristic technologies were researched; the USA operated nuclear rocket engines, France flew a “statoreacteur” (“ramjet”) plane, etc.; the inception of motorized flight, from the French steam plane, all the way to jet engines, took around 50 years!