“Why the media’s fact problems are much bigger than Rolling Stone.”

Link here.

For those who haven’t been following the story, Rolling Stone recently published an expose about a supposed gang-rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia that they and their reporter used to illustrate the terrible rape culture of today’s universities.

The article has turned out to be largely a fabrication and has instead illustrated the terrible state of modern journalism as well as the corrupt truth-challenged intellectual elite of our society. Mollie Hemingway’s devastating analysis at the link above summarizes this situation nicely, also illustrating why much of what comes out of modern intellectual discussions today is total hogwash.

She doesn’t mention it, but I could not help thinking about global warming as well as the recent Orion test flight (“the spacecraft that will take us to Mars!”). In both cases the press has been seriously challenged to show some justifiable skepticism of official press releases and has failed miserably.

The geography of scientific plagiarism

A review of the text of hundreds of thousands of papers submitted by scientists worldwide has revealed the countries from which plagiarism is most likely.

Researchers from countries that submit the lion’s share of arXiv papers—the United States, Canada, and a small number of industrialized countries in Europe and Asia—tend to plagiarize less often than researchers elsewhere. For example, more than 20% (38 of 186) of authors who submitted papers from Bulgaria were flagged, more than eight times the proportion from New Zealand (five of 207). In Japan, about 6% (269 of 4759) of submitting authors were flagged, compared with over 15% (164 out of 1054) from Iran.

The global map illustrating this geography at the link is quite fascinating to peruse, as it generally shows the cultural roots of plagiarism. Happily, western culture does not appear to be the source.

A Russian commercial reusable space shuttle?

A news report from Russia today described a project to build a commercial and reusable space shuttle for putting tourists into space.

The company, KosmoKurs, presently has eight employees and says it will launch by 2020. However, this quote from the article illustrates the difficulties faced by any new private companies in Russia:

Russian rocket and space industry is planned to produce this space shuttle. “We will talk to the United Rocket and Space Corporation. If we find common language, we will manufacture produce jointly with them,” the KosmoKurs head said. The company also pins hopes on backing of Russian Federal Space Agency and its scientific institutes.

Since Russia has now consolidated its entire aerospace industry into one government-controlled entity called the United Rocket and Space Corporation, any new private effort needs to get the cooperation of that company as well as the agreement of the government officials who control it. Such backing is not so easy to get, especially if the new company is seen as competition and a distraction from government goals.

Solar maximum ramp down continues

The monthly update by NOAA of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in November, was released on December 8, just before NOAA completely revamped its website. As I have been doing every month for the past four years, I am posting it here, with annotations to give it context.

As noted in previous months, the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community is looking better and better with time. Though there was an increase in sunspot activity in November, the overall trend continues downward very close to that prediction, though at levels that have generally been less than predicted.

November 2014 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

Future updates will depend on whether NOAA continues to track sunspots using these same standards. After much searching I was finally able to locate the graph above at this link, suggesting that at least for now, they are holding to these standards. I note however that the links to the 2007 and the 2009 solar cycle predictions have vanished down the memory hole. Fortunately, I still have this data, and can continue to annotate the graphs to compare prediction with actual data.

That they might have removed these predictions from their webpage however is a shame. I have emailed them to ask them about this and will let you know what I learn.

Science spending steady in proposed Congressional budget

The proposed budget deal announced by Congress yesterday essentially leaves level the overall spending on science.

I have a spreadsheet where I track the budgets of the various science agencies in the federal government, and from this I can say that since the Republicans took control of the House in 2010 the funding has remained very steady. Despite the partisan screams from the left that Republicans are destroying science, all these science agencies have pretty much gotten stable funding in the past four years.

Nonetheless, much of this funding could be trimmed significantly, as there is enormous featherbedding and pork among these science agencies. That won’t have a chance of happening until next year, when the Republicans control both houses of Congress. Even then, Obama and much of the Republican leadership will oppose significant cuts, Obama because he wants to see increases and the Republican leadership because they wish to maintain the status quo.

The unending growth in these budgets, routine from the 1970s through the 2000s, has definitely ceased. I also expect the political pressure to cut these budgets to grow with time. The newer Republican members of Congress tend to be much more radical than their leadership, and are much more willing to slash budgets radically.

A planetary cubesat mission by Japan

When Japan launched Hayabusa-2 last week it also sent a secondary payload towards the asteroid, a cubesat designed to test the engineering of using minisats for future planetary missions.

PROCYON, which stands for PRoximate Object Close flYby with Optical Navigation, is a 65-kg (143 lb.) spacecraft designed to demonstrate that micro-satellites can be used for deep-space exploration. In addition to testing out micro-sat systems in deep space, the spacecraft is to conduct a close flyby of an asteroid. Developed by the University of Tokyo and JAXA, PROCYON was launched as a secondary payload along with Hayabusa2 on Dec. 3. JAXA reports that controllers have received confirmation that PROCYON was inserted into its planned interplanetary orbit as scheduled two hours after launch.

The spacecraft, which measures only 630 x 550 x 550 mm (24.8 x 21.65 x 21.65 in), has a mission that is divided into nominal and advanced phases.

If this engineering proves viable, which we have every reason to expect, it will open the door to many more planetary missions, costing far less and requiring much smaller rockets to launch.

Lame duck Congress agrees to $1.1 trillion budget

Faced with the threat of a government shutdown, Congress has worked out a continuing resolution that will fund the government through its fiscal year ending in September 2015.

There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth among conservatives about this deal. Many wanted the Republicans to fight harder now and limit this deal more. I am less worried. The political winds are clearly favoring conservatives and tea party ideals. Come next year Congress will be controlled by Republicans, and the 2016 budget will be shaped by their concerns. Whatever small gains the Democrats and Obama get now will be stymied then.

And then will come the 2016 elections. I expect an even greater win for conservatives, since Obama is making it clear he will continue to stand firm in support of Obamacare and many other liberal issues that have proved to be poison at the ballot box.

Jonathan Gruber grilled by Congress over Obamacare

During his testimony today at a House hearing, Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber essentially admitted that not calling the individual mandate penalties a tax was a trick by the Obama administration and the Democrats in order to get the law passed.

Below the fold I also include a video excerpt of Congressman Trey Gowdy’s questioning of Gruber today. It is high entertainment as Gowdy easily highlights the dishonesty of Gruber and the Obama administration in its writing and passing of Obamacare. However, it is important to stay with the clip to the very end, when Chairman Darrell Issa proves with one simple question how Gruber was not alone in his contempt for the American voter, and that this contempt was held by everyone at every intellectual conference Gruber attended and spoke at.

It is very important for the American public to be aware of this intellectual contempt, for it will tell them to stop listening to this intellectual elite. They are not trustworthy, and are willing to screw the general public in order to impose their will on everyone.
» Read more

NOAA admits that California drought is not man-made

A new study by NOAA scientists has confirmed that the recent severe California drought was not caused by the human-caused increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but was instead the result of natural weather patterns.

The persistent weather pattern over the past several years has featured a warm, dry ridge of high pressure over the eastern north Pacific Ocean and western North America. Such high-pressure ridges prevent clouds from forming and precipitation from falling. The study notes that this ridge — which has resulted in decreased rain and snowfall since 2011 — is almost opposite to what computer models predict would result from human-caused climate change. [emphasis mine]

The climate models, which have all spectacularly failed to predict the lack of warming in the past 18 years, had also predicted that global warming would cause more rain in California, not less.

The article quotes both fake scientist Michael Mann and his buddy in the climategate scandal Kevin Trenberth in their effort to refute the study. They don’t provide much convincing data to explain why the models were all wrong, only loud whines about how they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Book news!

Two book items which I think my readers will be interested in:

First, my publisher of the ebook edition of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 has asked me to ask my readers to please post book reviews of the book on amazon.com. Presently the book has 47 reviews. If it gets three more, we will be eligible for a number of additional Kindle promotions.

So, whether you liked the book or not, please go to its webpage on amazon and give it a review. Your support will be very much appreciated.

Note also that the sale on amazon continues until the end of December. Until then, you can get the ebook edition of Genesis the Story of Apollo 8 for only $2.99!

Second, I have just published a new book, though on a topic that has nothing to do with space. Circuit Hikes of Southern Arizona was written during my spare time during the past two years while Diane and I explored the many beautiful trails out here in Tucson. Though there are many good Arizona hiking guidebooks, I noticed a lack of guidebooks describing loop trails. Since that is what we were doing anyway, I figured why not assemble my knowledge into a new guidebook and use the opportunity to learn about the modern world of both ebook and print self-publishing.

The print edition of Circuit Hikes is available directly from me here for $15, including shipping. The ebook can be purchased here (directly from me) or from amazon, barnes & noble, and all your normal ebook venders for $10.

This post will remain at the top of the webpage for the next twenty-four hours.

New documents link Justice Department with IRS scandal

Working for the Democratic Party: Despite releasing only two pages out of more than 800 demanded documents, a freedom of information request by Judicial Watch has demonstrated that high Obama administration officials had met with Lois Lerner and were likely directly involved in the harassment of conservatives.

Once again, the evidence shows that Lois Lerner was lying when she claimed the harassment was initiated by some low level workers in Cincinnati. It also suggests that there is far more than a “smidgeon of corruption” in this whole scandal, and that it is very possible that the evidence, now being withheld, will show that President Obama himself was involved.

The federal government mines confidential private health data

Finding out what’s in it: Under Obamacare, thirty-five government agencies plan to use your private health data for their own purposes.

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the release of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020, which details the efforts of some 35 departments and agencies of the federal government and their roles in the plan to “advance the collection, sharing, and use of electronic health information to improve health care, individual and community health, and research.”

The agencies include the Justice Department, the Defense Department, NASA, the Office of Personal Management, the FCC, and a whole slew of HHS employees.

So, while Congressional legislation forces youto fill out endless forms every time you visit your doctor, and he or she is forbidden from leaving voice messages on your phone out of fear the wrong person might hear it, Obamacare allows these government bureaucrats access to everything.

Aren’t you glad they passed Obamacare?

Want to become a rocket scientist?

For the next few days you can get the ebook “How to be a rocket scientist” for free, by an engineer who has been one. As Hoffstadt correctly notes,

We are still very far from having all of the answers and seeing all of the possible technologies that can help humans travel through the air and space, and to live beyond our planet Earth. There are important questions to ask, problems to solve, and things to build. We haven’t figured everything out yet and don’t know where the next ideas and accomplishments are going to come from. In other words … we need more rocket scientists! [emphasis in original]

Curiosity confirms that Gale Crater was once a water filled lake.

New geological data from Curiosity suggests that the interior of Gale Crater was shaped by sediments placed there by the rise and fall of a lake over millions of years.

The data also confirms that conditions on Mars were good enough for liquid water to be maintained on the surface for long periods of time. The problem is that scientists still do not understand how Mars could have maintained such kind of atmosphere and environmental conditions, based on its location and size.

A Chinese SLS super rocket?

The competition heats up: According to a report in a Chinese newspaper today, China is developing preliminary designs for a new rocket that would be the most powerful ever built.

According to an earlier report by China News Service, Liang Xiaohong, deputy head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, disclosed that the Long March-9 is planned to have a maximum payload of 130 tons and its first launch will take place around 2028.

Liang urged the government to include the Long March-9’s development in its space agenda as soon as possible so that China’s rocket technologies will not lag behind those of other space powers.

Whether this rocket every gets built is highly doubtful. The article seems to mostly be both a public relations response to the U.S.’s test flight on Friday of Orion as well as an example of a government agency lobbying for a bigger budget. (This lobbying happens even in communist China.)

Nonetheless, we should not dismiss the possibility lightly. As competition causes the cost of building all rockets to drop, it will be more affordable to build bigger rockets. By the next decade building a heavy lift rocket might finally be affordable.

Arizona county to ban employees who smoke

Put ’em in concentration camps! Pima County, which includes Tucson, Arizona, is considering banning the employment of any smokers.

Already employed smokers will be charged 30 percent more for their health insurance. The regulations will apply only to government employees.

I say, why waste time with this nonsense. Anyone who smokes is obviously the scum of the Earth, and should be rounded up and sent to camps, either to be re-educated, or to be killed if they can’t reform themselves. America is now an enlightened place, where freedom and individual responsibility have been replaced with the much deeper wisdom of the state!

Venus Express gone?

Engineers have been struggling to maintain contact with Venus Express, and have only been able to establish contact for intermittent periods.

Europe’s Venus Express was launched in November 2005 and got to the second planet from the Sun in April 2006, on what was originally a two-year mission. Since then it has sent data streaming back from its polar orbit.

But the probe’s days are numbered, and last month the flight control team at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) at Darmstadt, Germany, reported loss of contact with it. According to ESA’s Venus Express blog, it is possible that the remaining fuel on board the spacecraft was exhausted during recent manoeuvres and that the spacecraft is no longer in a stable attitude (the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna must be kept pointed toward Earth to ensure reliable radio contact).

They have been able to get bits of telemetry from the craft, but since its fuel supply is almost gone the possibility of keeping it operating much longer is limited.

New Horizons awakes

After almost nine years of travel the American New Horizons probe has been successfully awakened in preparation for its July fly-by of Pluto.

Since launching on January 19, 2006, New Horizons has spent 1,873 days — about two-thirds of its flight time — in hibernation. Its 18 separate hibernation periods, from mid-2007 to late 2014, ranged from 36 days to 202 days in length. The team used hibernation to save wear and tear on spacecraft components and reduce the risk of system failures. “Technically, this was routine, since the wake-up was a procedure that we’d done many times before,” said Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager at APL. “Symbolically, however, this is a big deal. It means the start of our pre-encounter operations.”

By mid-May we will begin to see images of Pluto and its moons that are better than any images ever before taken.

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