Can natural gas ignite the economy?

New technology is unlocking vast amounts of natural gas in the United States, enough to have a huge economic impact.  Yes, it involves “fracking,” the controversial practice of pumping chemical-laced water into shale deposits, but improvements in that technique are starting to satisfy all but the most zealous environmentalists.  I’m glad to see companies from my native Oklahoma are leading the way.  Businessweek has a big story on the topic with the deck below the headline, “Unlocking vast reserves of shale gas could solve the energy crisis, the jobs crisis, and the deficit.”

“The United States,” [energy company CEO Aubrey] McClendon boasts, “has the capacity to become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

A tall man who wears his wavy silver hair long by CEO standards, McClendon, 52, exudes the confidence of someone who’s certain he’s seen the future. Exploitation of newly accessible supplies of gas embedded in layers of what’s known as shale rock, he predicts, will help revive domestic manufacturing and change the terms of debate about global warming. “It’s a new industrial renaissance,” he says. . . .

Encouraged by the availability of inexpensive and cleaner domestic gas, some electric utilities are replacing their coal-burning capacity with gas-fired units. Energy-intensive manufacturers of chemicals, plastics, and steel are beginning to bring home operations that they exported years ago. “We believe natural gas must be part of any discussion on strengthening our country’s long-term economic health,” Mulva said in Detroit. “It should also be part of any discussion on improving energy security, protecting the environment, and, yes, creating jobs.”

On the economic potential of the nascent shale revolution, even some career environmentalists sound impressed, if cautious. “This thing is a potential game-changer,” says Fred Krupp, president of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Shale production in the U.S. has increased from practically nothing in 2000 to more than 13 billion cubic feet per day, or about 30 percent of the country’s natural gas supply. That proportion is heading toward 50 percent in coming years. The U.S. passed Russia in 2009 to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas. An Energy Dept. advisory panel on which Krupp sits estimated in August that more than 200,000 jobs, both direct and indirect, “have been created over the last several years by the development of domestic production of shale gas.” At a moment of 9.1 percent unemployment nationally, additional decently paid work is just one potential benefit. “Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, emits less in the way of greenhouse gases, and avoids mercury and other pollutants from coal,” Krupp points out. “So this could be win-win, if—and this is a big ‘if’—we do it the right way.”

via Could Shale Gas Reignite the U.S. Economy? – Businessweek.

Skeptics find global warming evidence

Often researchers find what they want to find. More persuasive is when researchers find what they do not want to find but report it anyway. A new study of climate change was funded by skeptics of global warming. They took into account the skeptics’ critiques of the methodology and data gathering used by the scientists discredited in the Climategate scandal.  Lo and behold, this new study ended up confirming the earlier research.  Actually, it found slightly higher average temperature increases.  See this report.

So now do you believe in global warming?  If not, what evidence would convince you?

I’ve been skeptical myself, not so much of global warming but of the contention that it is man-made.  Also of the contention that it will prove to be such a big disaster.

Am I reading the chart right, that the rise in temperature over the last century is only 1 degree Celsius?  Is that such a big rise that it would make much of a difference?

But I’m open to correction and enlightenment from my betters.

HT:  Kirk Anderson


In praise of the naked mole rat

Scientists have sequenced the genome of a strange little creature, the naked mole rat.  Why?  Because it never gets cancer, lives an unbelievably long life without mental decline, and has many other amazing powers that may hold clues for human health.

Mole rats are hairless, buck-toothed rodents four inches long that live in underground colonies in arid sections of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. Their social structure is the mammalian equivalent of an ant colony. There’s a queen who takes two or three male consorts and is the only female to reproduce. She lords over the rest of the realm — which can be as large as 200 animals — so that the other females cease ovulating and the males give up.

Mole rats can survive in environments low in oxygen (as little as 8 percent as opposed to 21 percent in the atmosphere) and laden with ammonia and carbon dioxide. Unlike other mammals (but like reptiles), they have a hard time regulating their body temperature. They have to move toward the warmer upper reaches of the burrow or huddle with their brethren when they get cold.

But their most unusual features are extreme longevity and apparently complete resistance to developing cancer.

Naked mole rats can live more than 25 years; mice live about four. Buffenstein said she has never found a malignant tumor in a mole rat in her 30-year-old colony, which has 2,000 animals. In a recent experiment, a group of mole rats had patches of skin painted with a chemical carcinogen at a dose 1,000 times stronger than what causes skin cancer in mice. None developed tumors.

A study published in 2009 found that naked mole rats had a molecular anticancer mechanism not present in mice or people. But a first look at the species’ full complement of 22,561 genes shows that’s just the beginning.

There are changes in genes involved in maintaining telomeres, the “tails” of chromosomes that determine how long a cell lives. There are changes in genes involved in marking damaged proteins for destruction. There’s an increase in “chaperone” genes that keep proteins folded into their right shapes. There are genes that appear to let the animals maintain stem cells in their tissues longer than other rodents.

The study looked at 54 human brain genes that become less or more active as a person ages. In the mole rat, 30 of those genes remain stable throughout life, and two others change their activity in a direction opposite to what occurs in human brains.

Mole rats have 96 gene families unique to the species. Interestingly, they and humans also share 178 gene families that neither mice nor other rats have.

via Naked mole rat genome may point way to long, healthy life – The Washington Post.



What we half perceive and half create

Following up on last week’s post and video of the The McGurk Effect, it would seem that we have in this demonstration of how the mind alters what we hear some empirical evidence to support the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.  Which is ironic because Kant’s philosophy  is questions empirical evidence!  To be more precise, he critiques what philosophers call “naive empiricism,” the assumption that what we take in with our senses is the only kind of reliable truth.

Kant says that we do indeed take in sense perceptions from the outside world.  But then our minds actively shape those perceptions.  What we experience is  sensory data as organized by our minds.  As Wordsworth puts it, “what we half perceive and half create” (“Lines Composed above Tintern Abbey”).

The McGurk video gives an example of that.  An even more common and accessible example would be the way we perceive distance.  If we were naive empiricists, believing just in what we see, we would have to believe that objects get smaller the farther away they are from us.  In reality, of course, the objects remain the same size.   We know this intuitively but not from our senses alone.  This is how our minds process, organize, and present the sense data.

There are other examples.  Colors don’t seem to be essential properties of objects, but rather manifestations of how our eyes and our minds process light frequencies.  Dogs are thought to see in black and white but to smell in some olfactory version of 3-D and Technicolor.  Insects whose multi-faceted eyes are raised above their heads apparently see 360 degrees at once, forward and backward and above and below at the same time, something unimaginable to us humans who look at things framed in one plane.  And yet dogs, insects, and people–despite their different sense perceptions– share the same reality.  (Can you think of other examples?)

Kantian philosophy started us down the slippery slope that has led us to existentialism, subjectivism, and postmodernism.  But those take his points too far.  That we half perceive and half create does NOT mean that we construct our own truth, much less that truth is relative or that truth is whatever we want it to be.  In the McGurk Effect video we hear “ba’s” and “fa’s,” not the Gettysburg Address.  We do receive sensory data from outside ourselves; we do not just make it up.  Naive empiricism sometimes is mistaken for science, but actual scientists know they have to employ the empirical method with many checks and balances–formal experiments with  controls and repeatability requirements–to get reliable findings.  They don’t just base science on what they see.

How does all of this relate to a Christian worldview?

Breaking the speed limit

Scientists have found neutrinos that seem to be traveling faster than the speed of light, which, according to the laws of physics since Einstein, is supposed to be impossible:

Puzzling results from Cern, home of the LHC, have confounded physicists – because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light.

Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early.

The result – which threatens to upend a century of physics – will be put online for scrutiny by other scientists.

In the meantime, the group says it is being very cautious about its claims.

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,” said report author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration.

“We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t,” he told BBC News.

“When you don’t find anything, then you say ‘Well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this.’”

The speed of light is the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics – as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity – depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it.

Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

But Dr Ereditato and his colleagues have been carrying out an experiment for the last three years that seems to suggest neutrinos have done just that.

Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another.

The team prepares a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, sending them from Cern to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.

In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up a few billionths of a second sooner than light would over the same distance.

The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 15,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that in scientific circles would count as a formal discovery.

But the group understands that what are known as “systematic errors” could easily make an erroneous result look like a breaking of the ultimate speed limit, and that has motivated them to publish their measurements.

“My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing – then I would be relieved,” Dr Ereditato said.

But for now, he explained, “we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result – because it is crazy”.

“And of course the consequences can be very serious.”

via BBC News – Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern.

I know exactly what our readers Webmonk and tODD will say:  The journalists have it all wrong and this is not that big a deal.  Surely a mistake, something that has another explanation.  (I know:  Maybe the neutrinos have just jumped into the future.)  Fine, fine.  I hope they will give us their explanation.  I hope they and other of you science types will allow for a mental experiment and instruct us about what difference this would make if it were, in fact, true that some things can go faster than light.

Stem cell sausage


Scientists are on the verge of growing artificial meat in laboratories without the need for animal slaughter, according to a report cited Thursday by The Herald Sun — with one expert predicting a stem cell sausage might be just six months away.

Researchers say the advent of “pain-free” meat produced from stem cells could save millions of animals from the abattoir and help the environment through substantially reduced energy, land and water use.

Dutch researcher Dr. Mark Post, of Maastricht University, predicts the first synthetic sausage could be just six months away.

“I’m hopeful we can have a hamburger in a year,” he told New Scientist.

But a major stumbling block will be turning cultured meat into a tasty, textured and nutritious option that could make mouths water in supermarkets and restaurants. The time and cost involved are also major hurdles.

Post said the meat — pig cells fed with horse fetal serum — he had grown did not look appetizing because it was white.

“It’s white because there’s no blood in it, and very little myoglobin, the iron-bearing protein,” he said. “We are looking at ways to build up the myoglobin content to give it color.”

via Slaughter-Free Stem Cell Meat Sausage Coming Soon | Fox News.

So could a vegan PETA supporter eat one of these sausages that is made without killing an animal?  Or would the fact that it still uses pig cells violate the principles of animal rights?  And in that event, would the vegan PETA supporters join pro-lifers in opposing abortion and fetal stem cell research?

What do you think of this?  Does a stem cell hamburger sound good?  Should we try to synthesize meat so that it would not be necessary to slaughter the animal?