Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

A fresh perspective from the new chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce

Mo Brooks (R-Alabama), the new chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce, gives his perspective on science and the budget. Two quotes of interest:

Q: Do you believe that federal research should be exempt from a rollback in federal spending to 2008 levels?
Brooks: I would love for that to happen. But we just don’t have the money. … We have no choice but to look at everything. If we don’t balance our budget over a short period of time, the federal government is going to collapse and there won’t be money for any of these things. So if we’re going to save money for research and advancement in science, we’re going to have to get our house in order now.

Q: Do you think the government should increase funding on research once things turn around?
Brooks: Do you mean if the budgetary situation turns around? I don’t see that happening in the next 4 to 5 years. We’ve got a $1.5 trillion budget deficit, and Admiral Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has declared it the number one security threat to the country. And if our creditors would cut us off, there would be zero money for national defense or NSF or anything else.

Note how the interviewer, from Science, can’t seem to get his head around the idea of budget cuts.

Q: Is human activity causing global warming?
Brooks: That’s a difficult question to answer because I’ve talked to scientists on both sides of the fence, especially at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Some say yes, and some say no. I’m also old enough to remember when the same left-wing part of our society was creating a global cooling scare in order to generate funds for their pet projects. So 30-some years ago, the big scare was global cooling, and once they drained the government, they shifted to global warming. So I’m approaching the issue with a healthy degree of skepticism. If the evidence is there to prove it, then so be it.


Obama to call for $53 billion in spending for high-speed rail

Obama calls for $53 billion in spending to build more high-speed railroads. Key quote:

An initial $8 billion in spending will be part of the budget plan Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 miles per hour, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn’t say where the money for the rest of the program would come from, though it’s likely Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.

I hope that the reason the White House couldn’t say where the money would come from is because it simply does not exist, and there is little chance that Congress will appropriate it.


The underground Moon

More images of lunar cave pits have been posted by the scientists of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). They have also published their first paper [pdf] about these cave pits for the 2011 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference taking place in March. The paper summarizes, with images, what is know about the three pits on the Moon that have each been imaged a number of times at different angles and lighting situations.

Mare Tranquilitatus
» Read more


Are Health-Care Waivers Unconstitutional?

Are the more than 700 waivers to Obamacare that the Obama administration has handed out unconstitutional? The final paragraph sums it up well:

Waivers can be used for good purposes. But since the time of Matthew Paris [around 1251], they have been recognized as a power above the law — a power used by government to co-opt powerful constituencies by freeing them from the law. Like old English kings, the current administration is claiming such a power to decide that some people do not have to follow the law. This is dangerous, above the law, and unauthorized by the Constitution.


Companies team up on new rocket

The competition to build rockets continues to heat up: A U.S. and European partnership is proposing its own new cargo rocket for NASA, using the Ares I first stage and the Ariane 5 second stage. Key quote:

Dubbed Liberty, the launcher looks similar to the Ares I rocket that was being developed for NASA’s Project Constellation, which was cancelled by the Obama Administration. For its first stage it employs the same advanced, five-segment version of the shuttle’s solid rocket booster. But in a move that significantly lowers development costs, the second stage of the rocket is based on the flight-proven core stage of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket.


The bigotry among social psychologists

The bigotry among social psychologists. Key quote:

Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) told the audience [at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference] that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal.

“I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”


Sand dunes and dry ice on Mars

Time for some more sightseeing on Mars. A recent news release from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter noted the discovery of seasonal avalanches on Mars. This new image of the northern martian sand dunes illustrate again how the surface of Mars changes seasonally. The white patches on the ridges of the sand dunes is frozen carbon dioxide, dry ice that condenses on the crowns of the dunes every winter. When spring comes, the dry ice evaporates, and as it does so it disturbs the underlying sand, which then tumbles down the sides of the dunes, producing the dark streaks.

Ice-capped sand dunes

The process is less dramatic, however, than the avalanches seen in the previous news release, as suggested by this image below, showing the same dunes in summer without the dry ice. The dark streaks in the second image are not significantly different from the first, indicating that the process that forms them is slow and subtle.

Sand dunes with ice-cap


Democrats Rally Lobbyists to fight Upcoming Spending cuts

Oink-oink! Senate Democrats met with lobbyists and special interest groups in a big closed-door meeting on January 24 to plan their opposition to any spending cuts. Key quote:

The Jan. 24 meeting was attended by approximately 400 people, sources told ABC, and served as a “call to arms” for those determined to fight Republican budget cuts.


House committee to review NASA budget

The first post-2010-election House appropriations committee hearing on NASA’s budget will take place this week. Key quote:

“The goal of the hearings is to help identify top management challenges and find ways to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in these respective departments and agencies,” the chairman of the CJS subcommittee, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA)


NBC employee who distributed “What is the internet?” video fired

The NBC employee who distributed the “What is the internet?” video was fired this week for doing so. First, if you haven’t seen it, here’s the video:

Though this video is hilarious, and does illustrate how completely contemptuous TV news anchors can be about new things they haven’t bothered to do any research about, it is also unfair to laugh at them with 20-20 hindsight. At one point or another we were all as ignorant as they are. Note also that we do not know the whole story about why NBC fired this employee.


Falcon 9 signed to launch Google Lunar X prize competitor

One of the competitor’s for the Google Lunar X prize has signed a contract with SpaceX to use the Falcon 9 to get its spacecraft to the Moon. Key quote:

The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the Moon. Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing. The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars. The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights. The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications.

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