July 27, 2017

Aluminium – The Material That Changed The World

Filed under: History, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Aug 2016

Thanks to the vlogbrothers for sponsoring this video. Have been following their work for years, it feels great to be supported by my role models!

Thank you to my patreon supporters: Adam Flohr, darth patron, Zoltan Gramantik, Josh Levent, Henning Basma.

Thanks to Dr. Barry O’Brien, from NUI Galway, for helping me with the final drafts of this script!

May 13, 2017

Psychedelic Drugs: The Future of Mental Health

Filed under: Health, Law, Science, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 May 2017

LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy are finally getting attention from serious medical researchers. And their findings are astounding.
A recent study found that MDMA-assisted therapy could help veterans suffering from PTSD. Another paper from Johns Hopkins presented evidence that therapy in conjunction with psilocybin mushrooms can help ease the mental suffering of terminal cancer patients.

These findings, among others, were presented at the 2017 Psychedelic Science Conference in Oakland, California, where researchers gather every few years to discuss the potential medical applications of psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and MDMA. The field has exploded thanks to reforms at the Food and Drug Administration that allow researchers, for the first time in decades, to study the effects of these drugs.

The organizer of the conference was the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is also funding much of this breakthrough research.

“It’s a fundamental right to explore one’s own consciousness,” says MAPS founder Rick Doblin. “We have the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of religion, and all those are based on the freedom of thought.”

At this year’s conference, Reason talked to researchers about the past, present, and future of this controversial and promising area of medical research.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Alex Manning and Weissmueller. Music by Kai Engel, Selva de Mar, and Lee Rosevere.

April 30, 2017

[p-hacking] “is one of the many questionable research practices responsible for the replication crisis in the social sciences”

Filed under: Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

What happens when someone digs into the statistics of highly influential health studies and discovers oddities? We’re in the process of finding out in the case of “rockstar researcher” Brian Wansink and several of his studies under the statistical microscope:

Things began to go bad late last year when Wansink posted some advice for grad students on his blog. The post, which has subsequently been removed (although a cached copy is available), described a grad student who, on Wansink’s instruction, had delved into a data set to look for interesting results. The data came from a study that had sold people coupons for an all-you-can-eat buffet. One group had paid $4 for the coupon, and the other group had paid $8.

The hypothesis had been that people would eat more if they had paid more, but the study had not found that result. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, publishing null results like these is important — failure to do so leads to publication bias, which can lead to a skewed public record that shows (for example) three successful tests of a hypothesis but not the 18 failed ones. But instead of publishing the null result, Wansink wanted to get something more out of the data.

“When [the grad student] arrived,” Wansink wrote, “I gave her a data set of a self-funded, failed study which had null results… I said, ‘This cost us a lot of time and our own money to collect. There’s got to be something here we can salvage because it’s a cool (rich & unique) data set.’ I had three ideas for potential Plan B, C, & D directions (since Plan A had failed).”

The responses to Wansink’s blog post from other researchers were incredulous, because this kind of data analysis is considered an incredibly bad idea. As this very famous xkcd strip explains, trawling through data, running lots of statistical tests, and looking only for significant results is bound to turn up some false positives. This practice of “p-hacking” — hunting for significant p-values in statistical analyses — is one of the many questionable research practices responsible for the replication crisis in the social sciences.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

April 25, 2017

QotD: Coca-Cola seen as harmful

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I hate sweet drinks — Coca-Cola et al. — so passionately that I grow angry whenever I see someone buy or drink one. I hate their taste, I hate the horrible plastic bottles in which they come; to see people carry them around with them as if they were dolls or comfort blankets infuriates me. It appalls me worse that anyone actually likes them. The drinks don’t relieve thirst, they merely create it and make their drinkers wish for more: a perfect recipe, from a certain unscrupulous commercial point of view.

I was therefore secretly pleased to read in a paper published recently in the British Medical Journal that those who drink these disgusting concoctions are more likely than others to develop type 2 diabetes — the type that is increasing throughout the world at an alarming pace, and in some countries even threatening to reverse the increase in life expectancy to which of late decades we have grown accustomed as part of the natural order of things and now think of almost as a human right. Such diabetes is not only the wages of sin — gluttony — but of something that affects our everyday lives even worse, namely mass bad taste.

Of course, the paper in the BMJ can be criticized. A statistical association is not by itself proof of causation, though I should be surprised in this instance if the relationship were not causative. Again, in my heart of hearts I hope that it is. It would restore my faith that the universe is just.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Gluttons for Punishment”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-07-25.

March 31, 2017

The likely impact of legalized marijuana on healthcare costs

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh, a self-confessed hardcore druggie (okay, he admits “I’m not a big pot smoker, although it is a point of honour with me to admit in print that I have done it plenty of times”), on some interesting aspects of next year’s “Cannabis Day” legalization target:

What leapt out at me in [recently elected MP and former cop Glen] Motz’s stream of consciousness was a claim that “health-care costs are starting to rise” in the recreational-marijuana states. What could this mean? The U.S. doesn’t have single-payer universal public healthcare, and its programs for the poor, the aged, and veterans are all administered federally. But if Motz wants to bring up health-care costs, we can certainly go there.

    They found that when individual states legalized medical marijuana (as 28 now have), doctors in those states began to fill fewer prescriptions addressing medical conditions for which there is some evidence that marijuana might help — anxiety, nausea, seizures, and the like

One of the most remarkable economic findings of any kind on piecemeal marijuana acceptance in the U.S. appeared in the journal Health Affairs last July. It became famous almost immediately as the “Medicare Part D study”: two policy specialists at the University of Georgia in Athens looked at data on 87 million pharmaceutical prescriptions paid for by the federal government from 2010 to 2013. They found that when individual states legalized medical marijuana (as 28 now have), doctors in those states began to fill fewer prescriptions addressing medical conditions for which there is some evidence that marijuana might help — anxiety, nausea, seizures, and the like.

By “fewer” I mean “a lot fewer.” The study estimated, for example, that medical marijuana reduced prescriptions for pain medication by about 1,800 per physician per year. That estimate could be off by an order of magnitude and still be pretty impressive. It is only one study, but when the researchers double-checked their results by looking at conditions that nobody thinks marijuana is indicated for, they found no declines in prescribing.

Marijuana is still an outlawed Schedule I drug under U.S. federal law, doctors even in medical-marijuana states “recommend” the stuff rather than formally prescribing it, and patients have to pay for it. Moreover, pot may be relatively unpopular with the (mostly pension-age) Medicare-eligible population. The Medicare Part D study shows, if nothing else, that American medicine is already making heavy professional use of marijuana. The authors think it might have saved Medicare half a billion dollars over the four-year study period. Perhaps there are concomitant harms that this study does not account for. It is hard for me to imagine what they might be, but I am not a politician.

January 2, 2017

“Honest scientific discourse and debate is often rendered impossible in the face of the ‘new catastrophism'”

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Media, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

It’s not your imagination — we really do seem to be careening from one ecological disaster to another, all caused by thoughtless human action … well, that’s what the activists are constantly saying:

What is patently obvious from reviewing Canada’s ancient history is that scientists still do not have an adequate understanding of Earth’s complex systems on which to base sound economic and environmental policy. From the upper reaches of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans onwards to the deep interior of the planet our knowledge of complex earth systems is still rather rudimentary. Huge areas of our planet are inaccessible and are little known scientifically. There is still also much to learn from reading the rock record of how our planet functioned in the past.

In so many areas, we simply don’t know enough of how our planet functions.

And yet……

Scarcely a day goes past without some group declaring the next global environmental crisis; we seemingly stagger from one widely proclaimed crisis to another each one (so we are told) with the potential to severely curtail or extinguish civilization as we know it. It’s an all too familiar story often told by scientists who cross over into advocacy and often with the scarcely-hidden sub-text that they are the only ones with the messianic foresight to see the problem and create a solution. Much of our science is what we would call ‘crisis-driven’ where funding, politics and the media are all intertwined and inseparable generating a corrupting and highly corrosive influence on the scientific method and its students. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t lead is the new yardstick with which to measure the overall significance of research.

Charles Darwin ushered in a new era of thinking where change was expected and necessary. Our species as are all others, is the product of ongoing environmental change and adaption to varying conditions; the constancy of change. In the last 15 years or so however, we have seemingly reverted to a pre-Darwinian mode of a fixed ‘immutable Earth’ where any change beyond some sort of ‘norm’ is seen in some quarters as unnatural, threatening and due to our activities, usually with the proviso of needing ‘to act now to save the planet.’ Honest scientific discourse and debate is often rendered impossible in the face of the ‘new catastrophism.’

Trained as geologists in the knowledge of Earth’s immensely long and complex history we appreciate that environmental change is normal. For example, rivers and coastlines are not static. Those coasts, in particular, that consist of sandy strand-plains and barrier-lagoon systems are continually evolving as sand is moved by the waves and tides. Cyclonic storms (hurricanes), a normal component of the weather in many parts of the world, are particularly likely to cause severe erosion. When recent events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy cause catastrophic damage, and spring storms cause massive flooding in Calgary or down the Mississippi valley, and droughts and wildfires affect large areas of the American SW these events are blamed on a supposed increase in the severity of extreme weather events brought about by climate change. In fact, they just reflect the working of statistical probability and long term climate cyclicity. Such events have happened in the past as part of ongoing changes in climate but affected fewer people. That the costs of weather and climate-related damage today are far greater is not because of an increased frequency of severe weather but the result of humans insisting on congregating and living in places that, while attractive, such as floodplains, mountain sides and beautiful coastlines, are especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Promises of a more ‘stable future’ if we can only prevent climate change are hopelessly misguided and raise unnatural expectations by being willfully ignorant of the natural workings of the planet. Climate change is the major issue for which more geological input dealing with the history of past climates would contribute to a deeper understanding of the nature of change and what we might expect in the future. The past climate record suggests in fact that for much of the Earth’s surface future cooling is the norm. Without natural climate change Canada would be buried under ice 3 km thick; that is it normal state for most of the last 2.5 million years with 100,000 years-long ice ages alternating with brief, short-lived interglacials such as the present which is close to its end.

H/T to Kate at SDA for the link.

November 26, 2016

The war on science

Filed under: Environment, Health, Politics, Science, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In City Journal, John Tierney explains why the most serious threats to science come not from the right’s creationist bitter clingers, but from the left’s highly selective “pro (some) science” activism:

I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?

Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples.

All three are in his first chapter, during Mooney’s brief acknowledgment that leftists “here and there” have been guilty of “science abuse.” First, there’s the Left’s opposition to genetically modified foods, which stifled research into what could have been a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation. Third, there’s the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience. Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others. The only successful war on science is the one waged by the Left.

November 22, 2016

Science, technology, and Il Donalduce

John Tierney on the President-elect’s stated views on science:

What will a Trump administration mean for scientific research and technology?

The good news is that the next president doesn’t seem all that interested in science, judging from the little he said about it during the campaign. That makes a welcome contrast with Barack Obama, who cared far too much — in the wrong way. He politicized science to advance his agenda. His scientific appointees in the White House, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration were distinguished by their progressive ideology, not the quality of their research. They used junk science — or no science — to justify misbegotten crusades against dietary salt, trans fats, and electronic cigarettes. They cited phony statistics to spread myths about a gender pay gap and a rape crisis on college campuses. Ignoring mainstream climate scientists, they blamed droughts and storms on global warming and then tried to silence critics who pointed out their mistakes.

Trump has vaguely expressed support for federal funding of R&D in science, medicine, and energy, but he has stressed encouraging innovation in the private sector. His election has left the science establishment aghast. Its members were mostly behind Hillary Clinton, both because they share her politics and because she would continue the programs funded by Obama. Their fears of losing funding are probably overblown — there’s strong support in Congress for R&D — but some of the priorities could change.

Trump has vowed to ignore the Paris international climate agreement that committed the U.S. to reduce greenhouse emissions. That prospect appalls environmentalists but cheers those of us who consider the agreement an enormously expensive way to achieve very little. Trump’s position poses a financial threat to wind-power producers and other green-energy companies that rely on federal subsidies to survive.

November 17, 2016

QotD: Scientific credibility

Filed under: Environment, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Today I saw a link to an article in Mother Jones bemoaning the fact that the general public is out of step with the consensus of science on important issues. The implication is that science is right and the general public are idiots. But my take is different.

I think science has earned its lack of credibility with the public. If you kick me in the balls for 20-years, how do you expect me to close my eyes and trust you?

If a person doesn’t believe climate change is real, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is that a case of a dumb human or a science that has not earned credibility? We humans operate on pattern recognition. The pattern science serves up, thanks to its winged monkeys in the media, is something like this:

Step One: We are totally sure the answer is X.

Step Two: Oops. X is wrong. But Y is totally right. Trust us this time.

Science isn’t about being right every time, or even most of the time. It is about being more right over time and fixing what it got wrong. So how is a common citizen supposed to know when science is “done” and when it is halfway to done which is the same as being wrong?

You can’t tell. And if any scientist says you should be able to tell when science is “done” on a topic, please show me the data indicating that people have psychic powers.

So maybe we should stop scoffing at people who don’t trust science and ask ourselves why. Ignorance might be part of the problem. But I think the bigger issue is that science is a “mostly wrong” situation by design that is intended to become more right over time. How do you make people trust a system that is designed to get wrong answers more often than right answers? And should we?


Science is an amazing thing. But it has a credibility issue that it earned. Should we fix the credibility situation by brainwashing skeptical citizens to believe in science despite its spotty track record, or is society’s current level of skepticism healthier than it looks? Maybe science is what needs to improve, not the citizens.

I’m on the side that says climate change, for example, is pretty much what science says it is because the scientific consensus is high. But I realize half of my fellow-citizens disagree, based on pattern recognition. On one hand, the views of my fellow citizens might lead humanity to inaction on climate change and result in the extinction of humans. On the other hand, would I want to live in a world in which people stopped using pattern recognition to make decisions?

Those are two bad choices.

Scott Adams, “Science’s Biggest Fail”, Scott Adams Blog, 2015-02-02.

November 10, 2016

QotD: Science’s Biggest Fail

Filed under: Health, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What is science’s biggest fail of all time?

I nominate everything about diet and fitness.

Maybe science has the diet and fitness stuff mostly right by now. I hope so. But I thought the same thing twenty years ago and I was wrong.

I used to think fatty food made you fat. Now it seems the opposite is true. Eating lots of peanuts, avocados, and cheese, for example, probably decreases your appetite and keeps you thin.

I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science.

I used to think the U.S. food pyramid was good science. In the past it was not, and I assume it is not now.

I used to think drinking one glass of alcohol a day is good for health, but now I think that idea is probably just a correlation found in studies.

I used to think I needed to drink a crazy-large amount of water each day, because smart people said so, but that wasn’t science either.

I could go on for an hour.

You might be tempted to say my real issue is with a lack of science, not with science. In some of the cases I mentioned there was a general belief that science had studied stuff when in fact it had not. So one could argue that the media and the government (schools in particular) are to blame for allowing so much non-science to taint the field of real science. And we all agree that science is not intended to be foolproof. Science is about crawling toward the truth over time.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. I expected science to tell me the best ways to eat and to exercise. Science did the opposite, sometimes because of misleading studies and sometimes by being silent when bad science morphed into popular misconceptions. And science was pretty damned cocky about being right during this period in which it was so wrong.

So you have the direct problem of science collectively steering my entire generation toward obesity, diabetes, and coronary problems. But the indirect problem might be worse: It is hard to trust science.

Scott Adams, “Science’s Biggest Fail”, Scott Adams Blog, 2015-02-02.

October 31, 2016

Is the “Gold Standard” of peer review actually just Fool’s Gold?

Filed under: Environment, Government, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Donna Laframboise points out that it’s difficult to govern based on scientific evidence if that evidence isn’t true:

We’re continually assured that government policies are grounded in evidence, whether it’s an anti-bullying programme in Finland, an alcohol awareness initiative in Texas or climate change responses around the globe. Science itself, we’re told, is guiding our footsteps.

There’s just one problem: science is in deep trouble. Last year, Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, referred to fears that ‘much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue’ and that ‘science has taken a turn toward darkness.’

It’s a worrying thought. Government policies can’t be considered evidence-based if the evidence on which they depend hasn’t been independently verified, yet the vast majority of academic research is never put to this test. Instead, something called peer review takes place. When a research paper is submitted, journals invite a couple of people to evaluate it. Known as referees, these individuals recommend that the paper be published, modified, or rejected.

If it’s true that one gets what one pays for, let me point out that referees typically work for no payment. They lack both the time and the resources to perform anything other than a cursory overview. Nothing like an audit occurs. No one examines the raw data for accuracy or the computer code for errors. Peer review doesn’t guarantee that proper statistical analyses were employed, or that lab equipment was used properly. The peer review process itself is full of serious flaws, yet is treated as if it’s the handmaiden of objective truth.

And it shows. Referees at the most prestigious of journals have given the green light to research that was later found to be wholly fraudulent. Conversely, they’ve scoffed at work that went on to win Nobel prizes. Richard Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal, describes peer review as a roulette wheel, a lottery and a black box. He points out that an extensive body of research finds scant evidence that this vetting process accomplishes much at all. On the other hand, a mountain of scholarship has identified profound deficiencies.

August 31, 2016

QotD: A scientific explanation of “the munchies”

Filed under: Health, Quotations, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Besides making a bongo drum sound inexplicably magical and enhancing a person’s ability to talk nonsense for extended periods of time, generations of cannabis smokers will recognise the “munchies” as one of the drug’s most reliable side-effects.

Now scientists have shown that the insatiable urge to eat after smoking is caused by cannabinoids hijacking brain cells that normally suppress appetite. The study suggests that cannabis causes the brain to produce a different set of chemicals that transform the feeling of fullness into a hunger that is never quite satisfied.

Scientists believe the findings, which illuminate a previously unknown aspect of the brain’s feeding circuitry, could help design new drugs that would boost or suppress appetite at will.

Tamas Horvath, who led the work at Yale University, said: “By observing how the appetite centre of the brain responds to marijuana, we were able to see what drives the hunger brought about by cannabis and how that same mechanism that normally turns off feeding becomes a driver of eating. It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead.”

Hannah Devlin, “Reefer research: cannabis ‘munchies’ explained by new study”, The Guardian, 2015-02-18.

April 24, 2016

The “secret” of Indian food

Filed under: India, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In an article in the Washington Post last year, Roberto Ferdman summarized the findings of a statistical study explaining why the flavours in Indian foods differ so much from other world cuisines:

Indian food, with its hodgepodge of ingredients and intoxicating aromas, is coveted around the world. The labor-intensive cuisine and its mix of spices is more often than not a revelation for those who sit down to eat it for the first time. Heavy doses of cardamom, cayenne, tamarind and other flavors can overwhelm an unfamiliar palate. Together, they help form the pillars of what tastes so good to so many people.

But behind the appeal of Indian food — what makes it so novel and so delicious — is also a stranger and subtler truth. In a large new analysis of more than 2,000 popular recipes, data scientists have discovered perhaps the key reason why Indian food tastes so unique: It does something radical with flavors, something very different from what we tend to do in the United States and the rest of Western culture. And it does it at the molecular level.


Chefs in the West like to make dishes with ingredients that have overlapping flavors. But not all cuisines adhere to the same rule. Many Asian cuisines have been shown to belie the trend by favoring dishes with ingredients that don’t overlap in flavor. And Indian food, in particular, is one of the most powerful counterexamples.

Researchers at the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur crunched data on several thousand recipes from a popular online recipe site called TarlaDalal.com. They broke each dish down to its ingredients, and then compared how often and heavily ingredients share flavor compounds.

The answer? Not too often.

March 3, 2016

The economic consequences of sustained cheap oil

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tim Harford explains why cheaper oil is generally speaking good for the economy:

After years in which $100 oil was the norm, the price of Brent crude is now around a third of that. Assume for a moment that Russia and Saudi Arabia fail in their efforts to get the price back up. Will $30 oil change the world? The answer is yes, of course. Everything is connected to everything else in economics, and that is particularly true when it comes to oil. For all the talk of the weightless economy, we’re not quite so post-industrial as to be able to ignore the cost of energy. Because oil is versatile and easy to transport, it remains the lubricant for the world’s energy system.

The rule of thumb has always been that while low oil prices are bad for the planet, they’re good for the economy. Last year a report from PwC estimated that a permanent fall in the price of oil by $50 would boost the size of the UK economy by about 1 per cent over five years, since the benefits — to most sectors but particularly to heavy industry, agriculture and air travel — would outweigh the costs to the oil production industry itself.

That represents the conventional wisdom, as well as historical experience. Oil was cheap throughout America’s halcyon years of the 1950s and 1960s; the oil shocks of the 1970s came alongside serious economic pain. The boom of the 1990s was usually credited to the world wide web but oil prices were very low and they soared to record levels in the run-up to the great recession. We can debate how important the oil price fluctuations were but the link between good times and cheap oil is not a coincidence.

Here’s a piece of back-of-the-envelope economics. The world consumes nearly 100 million barrels a day of oil, which is $10bn a day — or $3.5tn a year — at the $100 price to which we’ve become accustomed. A sustained collapse in the oil price would slice more than $2tn off that bill — set against a world economic output of around $80tn, that’s far from trivial. It is a huge transfer from the wallets of oil producers to those of oil consumers.

January 15, 2016

QotD: The temptation to “shade” the truth toward the consensus

Filed under: Environment, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As I am fond of saying, it works like a stock market bubble. There is no need to posit a conspiracy. David Friedman’s view that this is a matter of a build up of many little lies rather than a few big ones is a more realistic as well as a more charitable picture of the mechanism at work.

I am yet more charitable than Professor Friedman. Though I completely agree with him that there are almost certainly many scientists shading their conclusions, it might well be the case that they are not doing so consciously at all. All it would take is for a lot of people with jobs to keep and mortgages to pay each to see which side their bread is buttered when the time comes round to apply for grants. As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” On the unbuttered side of the bread, when a scientist observes that colleagues who raise doubts suffer for it, she would be acting much like the rest of humanity if she, while never aware of feeling fear, somehow finds herself more comfortable out of the intellectual proximity of these pariahs.

In a way the Rosetta scientists had it easy. All they had to do was hit a moving target half a billion kilometres away. Succeed or fail, there is no kidding yourself and no kidding others. Twenty-eight minutes later you and the world will know.

Natalie Solent, “Bubbles, lies, and buttered toast”, Samizdata, 2014-11-13.

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