Category Archives: Technology

The Science of Food and Energy

I wonder what the anti-GMO crowd will have to say about vegetables grown in space. The Independent reports that “Astronauts on the International Space Station will sit down to a very special meal tomorrow as they become the first people to ever eat vegetables grown on the station itself.” NASA scientists in charge of the Veg-01 experiment believe that growing and consuming fresh produce in space will confer both physical and psychological benefits on the astronauts, and they also see implications for improving “urban plant factories and agricultural practice designed to use electrical light sources and practice water conservation.”

Physical and psychological benefits of consuming healthful food? Don’t tell that to scientists recently funded by Coca-Cola. The soft-drink company reportedly donated $1.5 million to start the Global Energy Balance Network, an organization led by exercise scientists and dedicated to promoting the view that exercise is more important than diet in avoiding obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Hmmm. “Really virtually”? And he also had to add an “in fact” to the sentence? I think the Coca-Cola funded scientist doth protest too much.

Sugar is well known to be detrimental to human health. This recent article, for example, counts on readers to understand that, when scientists say that soybean oil is even worse for you than sugar, this is something you should heed. I have been blessed with a good metabolism that has allowed me to consume carbs with relatively little effect on my weight (thanks mom and dad!), but even with my metabolism I see that what I eat has much more of an effect on my weight and energy than does the amount of exercise I get. And that says nothing about the effect of carbs, particularly sugar, on the body’s all-too-precarious and little understood, in my opinion, balance of hormones and other life-sustaining chemicals (adrenals, thyroid, etc., etc.).

There may be some truth to the group’s assertion that many Americans are too fixated on the number of calories they consume, and that many would be healthier if they got more exercise. But if their message is, “Don’t worry, enjoy your sugary sodas. You can exercise it off,” then they are doing everyone a disservice. Not only is sugar bad for the body, but so is the type of exercise many use to burn it off: steady-state cardio. (See this article, which explains how steady-state cardio exercise, such as running, depletes muscle, tricks the body into retaining fat, and interferes with proper thyroid function.)

I have never been a big soda consumer, particularly in recent years as I’ve come to understand the effect of both sugary and reduced-calorie sodas on my health. Still, I’m somewhat sympathetic with Coca-Cola’s plight. Why? Because the company’s primary motivation for funding the Global Energy Balance Network is government intervention:

This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.

“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”

This is one of many instances in which we can agree with the position that governments are taking on an issue, while at the same time maintaining that government has no place interfering. (Gay marriage, anyone?)

Speaking of being out of place, how about the group of 29 U.S. scientists who took it upon themselves to write a letter to President Obama praising the Iran “deal”? In a News Sandwich, I am supposed to deliver only one bad news story on a particular theme, but this is another example of scientists acting, not in service of human life, but against it. The letter, reports the New York Times, “praises the technical features of the Iran accord and offers tacit rebuttals to recent criticisms on such issues as verification and provisions for investigating what specialists see as evidence of Iran’s past research on nuclear arms.” Only tacit rebuttals, because these scientists are not able to refute arguments by, e.g., the Ayn Rand Institute’s Elan Journo, that the content of any “deal” with Iran is meaningless because this regime, a leading sponsor of terrorism controlled by totalitarian theocrats, cannot be trusted.

I’d much rather see this group of 29 top nuclear scientists working on ways to provide us clean, plentiful, inexpensive nuclear energy. I’m still waiting for my Coca-Cola-can-sized, residential nuclear reactor that will free me of dependence on government-imposed monopolies. But while many of us work to change the culture to one that will legalize true energy innovation, we will have to be content with those technological advances, made possible by science, that are still legal.

Here’s one for which entrepreneurs will, no doubt, find numerous applications: iSkin, which is

A skin-worn sensor that turns the human body into a touch sensitive surface for controlling mobile devices has been developed by scientists in Germany. iSkin is made from biocompatible silicone rubber with pressure-sensitive sensors that are stuck to the skin of the users, allowing them to use their own body to control mobile devices.

One of the scientists “also hopes that it could one day be possible to incorporate an energy-harvesting system that would power iSkin via the wearer’s body.”

I wonder if the iSkin scientists could team up with Coca-Cola’s scientists and see if they can suck out the calories we consume in sugary soda? Would that qualify as “sustainable energy”?

I’m off to write my Patent Application now…

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The Use of Innovation to Improve Human Life–and Those Who Would Prevent It

A new invention reported by the New York Times this week promises to save us time, money and sanity. LiquiGlide “makes the inside of the bottle permanently wet and slippery,” so that their contents slide out easily. No more struggling to get ketchup out of the bottle–only to have it splatter on your clothes. No more precariously balancing the old bottle of liquid hand soap on top of the new one, for hours, in hopes of transferring the last bits of remaining soap that the dispenser pump could no longer reach. No more drinking tea that is lukewarm due to the minutes it took to extract the last teaspoon of honey from its bottle.

As described in the article, the technology works by means of a

“lubricant [that] binds more strongly to the textured surface than to the liquid [contained in the bottle], and that allows the liquid to slide on a layer of lubricant instead of being pinned against the surface, and the textured surface keeps the lubricant from slipping out.”

LiquiGlide, originally developed to solve “larger-scale industrial challenges, like preventing ice formation on airplane wings and allowing more efficient pumping of crude oil and other viscous liquids,” promises to save consumers quite a bit of money—assuming, of course, that it’s not too expensive to implement:

“Tests by Consumer Reports in 2009 found that much of what we buy never makes it out of the container and is instead thrown away — up to a quarter of skin lotion, 16 percent of laundry detergent and 15 percent of condiments like mustard and ketchup.”

I’ll be interested to hear more about the “edible” version of the lubricant that will be used on the insides of bottles containing food and condiments (its ingredients have not yet been disclosed). But in the meantime I look forward to trying out the technology in what is likely to be its first consumer application: Elmer’s glue, with whom LiquiGlide has signed an exclusive agreement.

In other news, unfortunately, a group of scientists are planning to use the “moral authority” of the United States to delay the use of potentially life-saving technology. At issue: “a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited.” According to The New York Times, the technique, which could erase genetic diseases, such as certain forms of breast and ovarian cancer, “has already been used to edit the genomes of mice, rats and monkeys, and few doubt that it would work the same way in people.”

And yet a group of biologists published a paper last week in the journal Science, calling for scientists worldwide to hold off on clinical application of the technology in humans—progress in some countries, recall, is not hampered by an FDA—“until the full implications ‘are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.’” (The inventor of the technique is the lead author of the article. A similar article, discussing the use of a rival genome-editing technology, recently appeared in the journal Nature.) Their concern is that, in addition to the probability of eradicating genetic diseases, the technology might be used “to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence.” Many ethicists, no doubt the same ones who will dominate the discussions in the “approved” scientific and governmental organizations, believe this genome-editing technology should not be used for either of these latter purposes.

My answer to them: then don’t use it. These biologists are hoping to buy time to “educate” the public about how bad it could be, and thereby to instigate worldwide calls of “there ought to be a law!” so that governments will regulate the use of this technology and prevent its use for “unethical” purposes like—gasp!—the enhancement of beauty and intelligence.

So long as there is no fraud or other rights violations committed by the doctors who implement this technology, we should let the free market decide for what purposes it will be used. It is always evil for government to initiate force against citizens so as to prevent them from benefiting from the fruits of their labor or enhancing their lives. (And yes, this includes preventing the use of genome-editing technology to enhance beauty.) But it is particularly evil to contemplate preventing, to hope to prevent, by force, the enhancement of human intelligence. Given that our rational faculty is our primary means of survival, the potential to enhance human intelligence carries with it the promise of more innovation, more productivity with less effort—in other words, more enjoyable lives for everyone. How dare a group of scientists try to arrogate to themselves the right to make this decision on our behalf?

The good news is that, while we work to change the culture to one that will, at least for the most part, embrace the opportunity to enhance human intelligence and beauty, we can at least avail ourselves of new medical treatments overseas via “medical tourism,” albeit at considerable expense and some inconvenience. While many around the world will be cowed—or coerced—as a result of whatever “consensus” is reached by the “scientific and governmental organizations,” others will likely begin to exploit this technology and offer patients the opportunity to live longer, healthier, happier lives.

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American Sense of Life vs. Government Schools

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, spoke at the Intellectual Property Expo in London today. Among the controversial statements to the press made by Sir Tim in the hours leading up to the event, is his assertion that “computers are getting smarter and we are not.” What should we do? Paraphrases Matt Warman of The Telegraph, “The only solution, he argues, is for people to embrace new technology, and accept that some jobs will simply disappear.”

One sort of job that will not disappear, predicts Sir Tim, is that of software developers. In fact, the demand for software developers, he thinks, will be limited only by our imagination:

I think in a way with software if people are interested in writing it, it’s not that there’s a certain amount of software that needs to be written. What you do with it is limited only by your imagination. If your imagination limited, OK. But some of it can be very artistic some of it can be very practical.

Those of us who embrace new technology, and who realize that everything comes with a cost, accept the inevitable job displacement that often accompanies innovation. We realize that the way to thrive, now and in the future, is by ensuring that we and our children receive a quality education that will allow us to adapt to a changing job market.

But will our government permit us to do this?

Parents who choose to send their kids to government schools are finding they are able to exercise less and less control over their children’s education. Many states across the country are still in the process of implementing Common Core, in which the curriculum–which some have complained will indoctrinate and dumb-down our children to an even greater degree than before–is dictated by a federally-appointed body. Those states that are implementing Common Core are being bribed, with our tax dollars, to get as many children as possible to take and pass–whatever that means–a series of standardized tests based on the Common Core. Now, in Wyoming, the Attorney General has, according to the Daily Caller, “officially advised the Wyoming Department of Education that it is illegal for parents to opt their own children out of statewide standardized assessment tests given in taxpayer-funded public schools.” Illegal to keep your own children home on the day the tests are administered because you don’t want their brains–or egos–to be turned into mush.

Think you can escape the effects of the Common Core by choosing to homeschool your child? Think again.

On Sept. 18 The Examiner reported that a New Jersey family that was homeschooling their children “received a notice from the local Superintendent of Schools that they must adhere to Common Core standards.” The Home School Legal Defense Association is there to help the parents fight back, but given the increasing popularity of the homeschooling movement (see this story, for example, about the increase in the rate of homeschooling in NC), I doubt this will be the last we’ll see of this sort of power grab.

Thankfully the American sense of life seems to be alive and well in parents throughout the country: The Daily Caller reports today that a recently published study shows that the public–and, in particular, parents at the local level in school districts throughout the country–is increasingly turning against the Common Core. (You may rightfully experience satisfaction that the study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports Common Core.)

When surveyed, 34 percent of district leaders described resistance from outside the school system as a major challenge to implementing Common Core, and another 39 percent described it as a minor challenge (18 percent said it was not a challenge at all).

That is a dramatic shift from 2011, when only 5 percent of district leaders said outside resistance was a major problem, 35 percent said it was a minor one, and 60 percent said it wasn’t a problem.

And of course the report found that implementing Common Core, as with any other government program, will cost more than originally projected: “[A]ll is not well even for district heads, who are adamant that more time, effort, and money than initially expected will be necessary for Common Core to work.”

Read more of The Daily Caller’s summary here.

As Ayn Rand wrote in her essay, “Don’t Let It Go,” “An American is an independent entity….[and] has no concept of service (or of servitude) to anyone.” Let’s hope that parents will continue to embrace this attitude and resist Common Core—and that they are able to overcome the bureaucratic inertia that already exists in the curriculum’s favor. Eventually, of course, my hope is that a substantial minority of parents in our country will join the abolitionist movement, but for now it is the Common Core that must be defeated.

(Those who need extra concrete motivation to join the abolitionist movement: Check out this story, in which we learn that a chain of Ohio “charter schools,” which are government-funded, but privately run, and are supposed to provide a higher quality alternative to “traditional” government schools, are hiring a large number of Turkish teachers of dubious qualification.)

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