Links – September 27, 2015

Russia is moving troops and equipment into Syria, for what purpose nobody but the Russians know. And that probably includes the Syrians and Iranians, although they have been told some plans. Russia will act primarily in what it conceives to be its own interests, though.

What will Russia bomb? Vladimir Putin says that it will be ISIS, but it is more likely to be other regime opponents who are more immediately threatening. The United States has been aiding some of them.  Read More

Radioactive Mutant Butterflies – Really?

[This post is by Susan Voss. It’s from August 15, 2012. I’ve transferred it over here because I’ve been told it’s not showing up at our other site. Hopefully we will have things straightened out one of these days..]

(updated again – 9:35 am; US MST; added a comparison chart of second generation abnormalities in adults; added link to Scientific Reports; correction last table. Updated Fukushima results Table 2 with correct total for adult butterflies.)

Researchers in Japan published a new study, “The biological impacts of the Fukushima nuclear accident on the pale grass blue butterly”  by Hiyama, A. et al, published by the Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd (Scientific Reports – “Hosted on — the home of over 80 journals published by Nature Publishing Group and the destination for millions of scientists globally every month”). The study focuses on the impact of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident to the pale grass blue butterfly. In reviewing their data it appears that their results do not fully support their claims. Read More

Venture Capitalists Leading Science

The United States has long been developing its own design for centrifuges that can separate uranium isotopes. Recently, the DOE, the only funder of the project, has cut the budget (photo from this link). This is an indigenous American technology with the potential for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and providing jobs. Since the government seems unable to make it profitable, seems like a place for the free market and venture capitalists to intervene!

But no word from Elon Musk or Peter Thiel. Musk is busy buying Russian rockets with American government money to try to supplant NASA. Peter Thiel is admonishing the biotech industry to become less random.

Both Musk and Thiel made their inital fortunes by developing PayPal in a new environment, where timing and luck played a big part. If PayPal crashed, it wouldn’t kill people, like a rocket or vaccine.

There is a presumption in the media, and probably held by many Americans, that if you’ve made a lot of money, you must know what you’re doing. There’s plenty of data out there to refute that (Donald Trump, anyone?), but it’s hard to counter a good story with data.

Musk is leveraging your tax dollars to make even more money. He buys Russian rocket motors because they are a quick way to his goal, not because that is a sustainable strategy, although, to be fair, it looked more sustainable before Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea. Thiel wants biotech to become a predictable place to make more money. The potential is great: if people need drugs to live, more money can be squeezed out of them.

Why these guys need yet more money is beyond me. So is what they are contributing to science or engineering. I see no new ideas, no new science. Another Gen X/Millennial creation occurs to me: the mangling of the story of the Manhattan Project by a video series. That series felt that the real story, where Robert Oppenheimer allowed Seth Neddermeyer and a small group to investigate implosion on a parallel track to the development of a gun design for a plutonium weapon, was insufficient, and today’s obsession with competition as exemplified by the Free Market ™ was much more interesting.

Except the Manhattan Project succeeded in its goals by a much more cooperative approach. Having options ready and being able to turn the entire project on a dime when it became clear that the gun design wouldn’t work. The willingness of project participants to give up what they had been working on was part of that, subordinating one’s own goals and ego.

Ego – oh yeah – think that has anything to do with Musk’s and Thiel’s decisions?

A Bit Of I Told You So

Back in August, the Associated Press published an article claiming that the IAEA would not oversee sampling at Iran’s Parchin site, where tests relating to nuclear weapons development are believed to have taken place. That claim, and the document said to support it, were not of the form that IAEA documents usually take, nor did it cover the material necessary for such a document. I said that here and described the kind of thing I would have expected to see, along with how IAEA might monitor sample-taking even if it were not on site.

The response was rapid and vehement on Twitter. AP reporters and editors, along with random others, attacked me and others who dared to question the story. They offered no further support for the story, nor did George Jahn, the author of the story, join in. Read More

Russia: Looking For A Grand Bargain In Syria?

Why is Vladimir Putin announcing increased Russian involvement in Syria? He still denies Russian involvement in Ukraine. Why is Syria different?

Let me first say that I think that trying to figure out what is in Putin’s head is of limited value.  “What is Putin thinking?” is, nonetheless, an intriguing parlor game.

The reasons Russia is becoming more and more publicly involved in Syria are many: continuing to prop up their only remaining dictator in the region, wanting to be in on any settlement that is reached, and so on. Of the possibilities that have been suggested, most are not mutually exclusive; a strategic move can include multiple objectives. Read More

What Is An Antineutrino Map Good For?

Here’s how I try to figure out news about scientific advances. This example relates both to nuclear science and to nonproliferation, so it’s of interest, and one might think I could interpret it easily. Maybe not so much, if the information isn’t there.

A friend sent me this article. Antineutrinos – oh noes! What I know about them is that they go through matter. Plus beloved of physicists for the way they fit (or not) into elaborate schemes of particles I long ago gave up keeping track of. Heat produced in planet’s interior? Okay. But the map is of antineutrinos (emission? absorption?), and what do they have to do with heat? Hm…nuclear reactors, the sun and radioactive material in the earth…okay, but the article never really tells us what antineutrinos are good for. Read More