Science & Society

Science and Society and how they get along.

My Photo
Location: Santa Barbara, California, United States

I'm a physicist and science consultant specialized in optics, lasers and optical engineering. This blog, StarkFX, looks at what applications physics is finding today. Or, if you are looking at my StarkEffects blog, it displays my views about and interest in the interface between society and science.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Don't take a robot's job!

James Van Allen was a true American space hero. A year before his death in 2006, he summed-up manned space flight: "It's so old-fashioned." (personal comment to Robert Park)

Bob Park has been harping on this issue for years now on his blog-newsletter, What’s New. In his opinion, manned space flight is absolutely wasteful of our resources and a diversion that prevents real scientific discovery from being achieved. According to Dr. Park, robots are so much better at exploration that humans have no business even trying to explore space –personally that is. It just so happens that we are exploring when we send our robots out there. No doubt they are better than we are: they don’t complain, they can withstand the environment; cold; hot; no air; high radiation; monotony; and possibly dangers we don’t even know about for sure (like the Van Allen radiation belts were). And their eyes and ears and even their sense of touch are better than ours. On top of that, they have senses we never will have. More importantly they can be better at sharing what they find. We humans learn more when we send a robot to do space exploration than we would ever learn by sending another human! Not to mention that losing even one person in a space flight mishap is an incalculable loss, while the loss of a robot is measured in money and time spent by the scientists that create it. It hurts, but we get over it. Actual cost in dollars will always be smaller for sending robots as opposed to humans, more work will always get done when we send a robot and more is learned when we send a robot. –Why in the world would we even consider sending a human to do a robot’s job?

As budgets are planned for our space exploration and domination, we need to realize how much more we get from robots going out there than from people going out there and get more excited about the return for our effort. If we decide that it is more exciting to send a robot, based on the logical reasons for doing so, than it is to send people into that dangerous environment, then maybe our political leaders will be less inclined to take advantage of our emotions with all the grand talk of sending a human crew.

T. Troy Stark

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Group Think -vs- Intelligent Individuals

Stephen Pratt, a behavioral ecologist at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences in Tempe.: "All minds, both collective and individual, have limited capacity—they have to use shortcuts and rules of thumb to solve difficult decision problems, and those shortcuts are expected to sometimes cause mistakes, the ant colonies, however, were unfazed by a challenge that often elicits such mistakes in other animals."
"These findings underscore a nonintuitive point—getting lots of information about a problem may not help decision making if you have only limited computational capacity to process it. You might do better with a strategically limited set of information. The trick, of course, is knowing what information to use and what to exclude."

What Pratt was studying is the way an ant colony makes decisions in comparison to the way that humans or other animals make decisions in situations that often elicit irrational choices in humans and other animals. In his study, the ants, with very limited information on an individual basis, made rational choices with proper comparisons on a group basis in the same situation that causes humans to apply comparisons in an irrational manner. Specifically, we will often face a comparison between two nearly equal choices and statistically choose either one about half the time -in this case a proper comparison, however, if we have a third choice that is worse than one of the other choices in some noticeable way, we often show a bias for the choice that was better by comparison with the really bad option. For example, you may be torn between two options for employment: one position pays a little more money, while the other offers a little more security. If a third choice appears offering much less security -many humans are suddenly not torn between the two choices anymore, now they tend to take the job offering the higher security.

See the report at Scientific American's website

Mindless Collectives Better at Rational Decision-Making Than Brainy Individuals

By Charles Q. Choi

This is just one of the ways groups can make better decisions (defined as more rational) than highly intelligent, over informed, individuals. But, be careful how you apply this knowledge. Following the crowd is not always the right way to go!

-T. Troy Stark,

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seduction, Lies and Cellulose

One of the real problems with having a technologically advanced society populated by people that don't understand science is plain old fraud. Scams, shell games and self deceptions are too familiar in the energy industry. There have been scams like Steorn's Orbo, Cold Fusion schemes, Sam Leach scammed investors out of millions with an automobile that ran on water, Irving Dardik preaches SuperWaves and who could forget the "smartest guys in the room" .

Well, if it works, somebody will try it again. It appears that Cello Energy of Bay Minette, Alabama, was doing just that. The EPA had a hand in this one too. They have a goal of 100 million gallons of cellulosic fuel by the year 2010 and they were counting on Cello Energy to produce 70 million gallons of it. They are not likely to deliver.

Cello Energy has been ordered by a federal court to pay $10.4 million in punitive damages for fraudulently claiming it could produce cheap diesellike fuel from hay, wood pulp and other waste -cellulosic fuel. In 2007 Cello's owner, Jack Boykin built a facility the way Hollywood does, just the showy parts, and then lured pulp producer Parsons & Whittemore Enterprises to invest $2.5 million in an ownership stake. It seems that P&W CEO George Landegger was not impressed, but the money was invested anyway. Samples of fuel were provided by Cello Energy, but they were derived from petroleum. It turns out that the EPA had been expecting too much from a company that will deliver nothing! What is amazing is the showmanship of Boykin and his company. They claimed to be able to produce 70 million gallons while other companies were promising only a million or two. Should have been a dead give away don't you think? Well, to be fair, the EPA was guilty of getting the 70 million number from just the size of the planned facilities. Take note, if you are going to commit fraud, get your victims to make a few assumptions on their own and make the claims really big.

George Huber of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a chemical engineering professor wrote: "There are no magic processes for conversion of biomass into liquid fuels," and "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is not true." ----But, people seem less prone to invest when they hear the truth, sooooo......send your money to (paypal will do) and be one of the first investors in my new technology to capture the energy naturally released in the brains of investors when they suffer an imagination fueled endorphin rush while listening to snake oil salesmen.


Labels: , , , ,