There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

Mark Twain

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Why Heretics Are Necessary

Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson is a physicist at the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study and has been for many years. His work, to another physicist, is incredible. I first heard him speak on the aspects of increasing CO2 in our atmosphere many years ago at IBM Research Center in Yorktown Heights. The following is an essay from his book, A Many Colored Glass, on the need for heretics in science.

As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions. Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science. When I make predictions, I am not speaking as a scientist. I am speaking as a story-teller, and my predictions are science-fiction rather than science. The predictions of science-fiction writers are notoriously inaccurate. Their purpose is to imagine what might happen rather than to describe what will happen. I will be telling stories that challenge the prevailing dogmas of today. The prevailing dogmas may be right, but they still need to be challenged. I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies. Since I am heretic, I am accustomed to being in the minority. If I could persuade everyone to agree with me, I would not be a heretic.

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Electrical Costs Ongoing

The cost of electricity has many parts. In the United States, deregulation has broken those costs into so many disingenuous parts so that the causes of excess cost are not easily discernable. However, two aspects are clear. First, hydropower has the lowest cost if it can be maintained through environmental law suits. Second, solar and wind energy are the most expensive forms of energy, always requiring one or more forms of state subsidy. A look at the variation of price across the United States compared to countries where renewables have been emphasized is useful because prices directly reflect costs.

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Fear Mongering

Yelling fire in a crowded theater is a crime, but only if it incites imminent lawless action. People rushing to the exits may be harmed, but no lawless action was encouraged. So what about yelling climate change during the impact of two large hurricanes? The same thinking applies. People will undoubtedly be harmed by the rush to poor public policy, but no lawless action was encouraged. But just as a snow storm is not evidence against global warming, two large hurricanes are not evidence for climate change, let alone man-made climate change. Anecdotal evidence is unscientific. In terms of recorded data, the current hurricanes are not even that unusual.

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College Bound

Is college worth the cost purely in financial terms? Apparently that depends on many decisions, including the student’s preparedness and career choices. According to a recent study, the median college graduate will earn approximately $300,000 more over a lifetime than a high school graduate. But, of course, that depends on the choice of major, followed by employment. And it depends on graduating in four years, not five or six. And it depends on the reduction of college cost by student aid, frequently restricted to certain income strata. And even then, only 75% of all graduates do better in the long term. So college is a risk, as are all choices that increase income. Risk is the major generator of income differences. So how to make that choice?

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Time And Space

How can anyone talk about healthcare in the current environment without carrying a lot of deplorable baggage? For instance, a lot of imagery involves the concept of single-payer healthcare versus the free market. But healthcare has not had a free market since the advent of Medicare in 1966; the federal government has manipulated and twisted the market in dozens of different ways. To see just a glimpse of that landscape, take a look at a summary of a health care plan that is supposed to minimize that manipulation. The number of workarounds to government interference boggles the mind. The direction for serious discussion should be to put the entire system in its proper context.

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Cold Civil War

On June 16, 1858, over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln spoke on the division in our country over the issue of slavery. That speech established his credentials in the political debate of the time, even though he lost that particular election. In the speech, he quoted the biblical statements of Jesus, "A house divided against itself cannot stand”. And so the speech takes that name. In particular, in Matthew 12:25, Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Notice the inclusion of the state.

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Memory Leaks

All of us have had the same problem; we can’t recall a memory that we know we have. Sometimes we have an image of a thing, but can’t put a word to it. Sometimes the memory feels like an echo in our mind but the connection is lost. In the programming of computer software, that’s called a memory leak. Typically, in order to store information, a programmer creates a glob of memory to insert the requisite data and then creates a pointer to allow retrieval. If the pointer is lost, the memory doesn’t go away, just the ability to retrieve it. Memory fills up, while usefulness decays away. If that sounds like old age, join the group. The real question in education is how to enhance retrieval in order to promote mastery. And a different look at subject in a paper by Karpicke and Roediger1 offers a clue.

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Enter The Burrow

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

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Lindzen Petition

Prof. Richard Lindzen, MIT

Dear Mr. President:

Citizens of the USA and America’s admirers everywhere support of your campaign promises to place a common-sense focus on international environmental agreements, either enacted or proposed. In just a few weeks, more than 300 eminent scientists and other qualified individuals from around the world have signed the petition below, urging you to withdraw from the ill-advised United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). More are signing on every day.

We petition the American and other governments to change course on an outdated international agreement that targets minor greenhouse gases, primarily Carbon Dioxide, CO2 for harsh regulation. Since 2009, the US and other governments have undertaken actions with respect to global climate that are not scientifically justified and that already have, and will continue to cause serious social and economic harm—with no environmental benefits. While we support effective, affordable, reasonable and direct controls on conventional environmental pollutants, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. To the contrary, there is clear evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful to food crops and other plants that nourish all life. It is plant food, not poison.

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Climate Models Reviewed

The use of climate models is difficult for many people to understand, yet the results are important to the economy. Using these models, politicians make demands on energy restrictions and cost. In Connecticut, we pay a premium on electricity to install “clean” energy. Recently, Professor Judith Curry released a paper at the Global Warming Policy Foundation discussing the formation and use of climate models. Professor Curry is the author of over 180 scientific papers on weather and climate who recently retired from the Georgia Institute of Technology after numerous attacks on her scientific work as she has discussed here.

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