Something for the weekend #7

Your weekly round-up of optimism I’ve noticed in the media:

* Bungs of cash bombard boffins: An Uptrend in U.S. R&D Spending: possible breakthrough period ahead

     → “The U.S. is now three years into this stretch of real spending increases [on R&D], and it bodes well for the next few years. More importantly, much like what happened in the prolonged period of spending increases after the 1990 recession that lead to the technology boom of the late 1990s, this would be the first seven to eight year stretch of meaningful annual spending increases since that time.”

* They’re just about moan-aging: UK investment is at a record high. So why has almost no one reported it?

     → Only noticed by the financial paper, the FT.

* Many happy returns: “Optimism is a Force Multiplier”.

     → “The effect of a leader’s enthusiasm and optimism is incredible. The impact of leadership’s pessimism can be equally impactful but in the wrong direction.” This one is more from the ‘happy-clappy’ / ‘management techniques’ end of the optimism spectrum. But it has some wise words nonetheless.

* Life’s a beach: Is South Florida Doomed By Sea-Level Rise? Experts Say No. In Fact, They’re Optimistic.

     → Good news, we’ll adapt. But once past the headline and opener the article becomes infested with a swarm of ugly and disreputable headline-grabbing attempts, and the WGCU/WLRN journalist is obviously too clueless to challenge even the most basic of these. For instance:

“If all of Greenland melted, that would be 27 feet equivalent” of sea level rise globally, [scientist] Ben Kirtman says. “Twenty-seven feet is a little bit like the national debt. It’s beyond my imagination.” But, he adds, scientists are certain that people alive today won’t be around to see that.

Whereas he should have been honest, rather than grossly alarmist and highly misleading. He is slyly insinuating that one’s grandchildren could face 27ft of sea-level rise from Greenland alone, and the journalist is letting him get away with it. But we know, for instance, that Greenland’s ice-cap will still be about 98.5% intact by 2200 (more figures here).


Long Now: Steven Pinker

A new Seminar About Long-term Thinking, at the Long Now: Steven Pinker giving a long lecture on the themes of his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Followed by audience questions with the venerable Stewart Brand.

In the Q&A there’s some moaning about Trump (who I seriously doubt is channelling the 1920s ideas of the likes of Ernst Junger, as is suggested by Pinker), but it’s easily chuckled at for credulously buying into the muddle-headed ‘Trump is Hitler’ stance of the far-left.

Something for the weekend #6

Your weekly round-up of optimism in the media:

* Another grip in the wall: The Queen’s Crown Estate has installed a new type of moss wall in central London, for tests and trials. It’s a vertical “City Tree” green wall of mosses, cultivated to thrive in urban areas [and theoretically] capable of gripping onto and reducing air pollutants “including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from the surrounding area by up to 30%”.

     → It has nice seats with backs, too. Such seats are becoming all too rare in the UK, as any opportunity to sit down in comfort for free is slowly but assiduously being removed from public spaces.

* No more ‘secret science’: The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make all of its science and data public, adopting a policy suggested by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

     → Specifically the EPA… “will reverse long-standing EPA policy allowing regulators to rely on non-public scientific data in crafting rules. [and in future] EPA-funded studies would need to make all their data public.”

* He cracked it: “Why The ‘Father Of Fracking’ Probably Deserves A Nobel Peace Prize” suggests The Federalist.

     → “George P. Mitchell has unleashed a ripple of wealth and peace around the globe.”

* The rising tide of cash: Saudi Arabia plans to invest $10 billion in buying a group of islands in the Indian Ocean.

     → According to increasingly questionable computer models, these islands should have long since sunk beneath rising waves.

* Pop up!: In the face of continuing high levels of piracy and sharing (and some frankly mediocre pop music-making) the U.S. Music Industry sees fastest growth in more than 20 years

     → “U.S. recorded music sales climbed 17 percent to $8.7 billion last year, the second straight gain in domestic revenue, the Recording Industry Association of America said Thursday.”

* It’s a riddle: “Bad news is sudden, good news is gradual” says Matt Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist).

     → In the face of huge and increasingly well-documented reasons for optimism “… the bias against good news in the media seems to be getting worse.”

* New science, old school: A new book, Rock, Bone, and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences.

     → Geology, palaeontology, archaeology and ancient genetics are seeing surging progress, and also very significant synergies with each other and with Big Data. The book suggests that this… “gives us every reason to be optimistic about their capacity to uncover truths about prehistory”. The author… “examines and refutes arguments for pessimism about the capacity of the historical sciences [and] argues for a creative, open-ended approach, ’empirically grounded’ speculation.”

* My bad: Thomas Sowell’s new book Discrimination and Disparities demolishes claims that ‘bad outcomes’ in life are always attributable to discrimination and prejudice.

     → The new book has a very clunky and offputting cover, but it’s great to see Sowell is still cogent and publishing timely new works at age 89.

* Happier frogs: In French only, the book Environnement : les années optimistes (trans: Environment: the Optimistic Years)… “reports the most significant environmental gains made in recent years.”

     → Though I note that its list of reasons for optimism appears to omits the overall re-greening of the planet.

* Sprogs with nogs: Martin Seligman’s well-regarded 1995 book The Optimistic Child: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Resilient Children is being republished in the UK as an affordable Kindle ebook. I see that a Trantor unabridged audiobook edition also became available in the UK in 2017.

“It’s all dystopia”

The leading science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Anathem) was interviewed last week at MIT. It wasn’t the greatest interview in the world, frankly, but he was asked about the effects of his recent multi-author anthology of optimistic science-fiction. He replied that, as a result of the anthology…

NS: “I feel like there was a little uptick in people being more conscious of, you know, why they’re always dystopias [in contemporary science-fiction], you know. Can we please get away from the dystopian thing for a minute?”

Interviewer: “I mean… the effects on young people [can’t be good. For instance]… I see my daughter’s middle school… yeah… they’re reading science fiction. But it’s all dystopia.”

Something for the weekend, #5

Optimism and reasons for optimism, recently spotted in the media:

* Bug off: “Planting GMOs kills so many bugs that it helps non-GMO crops”

     → “… new work shows that Bt corn also controls pests in other types of crops planted nearby, specifically vegetables. In doing so, it cuts down on the use of pesticides on these crops, as well.”

* Bug in: “The bug in our diet”.

     → Canada’s National Post takes an in-depth look at all the latest research on human-edible insects, and how to package and market them.

* Face bork: Nielsen stats show users spending 24 percent less time on Facebook

     → In November – December 2017. Looks like positive news, but the question is: is this a normal pre-Christmas dip, due to people tending to be busy at that time of year? Did much the same dip happen in late 2016?

* Golden showers: “Welcome to the Golden Age”.

     → The City Journal reviews the new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker. With a strong focus on just how much the habitual future-phobics of the political left will hate the book.

* Bunnies begone: “Gardeners must be optimists” muses a small-town gardener.

     → Though, as he says, it does help if you… “Erect a fence of appropriate materials that’s high enough and strong enough to keep the unwanted interlopers out.” So true.

Something for the weekend, #4

Optimism and reasons for optimism, recently spotted in the media:

* The Federalist podcast: Steven Pinker On Science, Progress, And Why Humanity Is Better Than Ever (47 mins).

     → The left-leaning Steven Pinker promotes his new book on optimism, to one of the USA’s most savvy bunch of mainstream intellectual conservatives.

* A new national Centre for Sikh and Punjabi Studies in the UK.

     → A major research centre and “the first of its kind in the UK”.

* France will pump up to $31 million into a fleet of rigid airships for transporting heavy cargo.

     → But possibly not all good news, if sold to deforesters in Indonesia, Brazil, Paraguay. Because the airships were… “designed to collect wood from hard-to-reach areas of forests.”

* Easter Island votes for world’s newest marine reserve covering “286,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean surrounding Easter Island”.

     → But also read the same publication’s recent in-depth “The ups and downs of marine protected areas: Examining the evidence”, which concludes that while overfished animals of course tend to recover in the reserve, the impact on the well-being of local people inevitably varies and has barely been studied. The case for a wider regional recovery of fisheries yield is also not yet supported by research.

* We don’t need climate planners to be our population planners (Marianas Variety, Micronesia newspaper)

     → A positive and optimistic message, getting through to the Micronesia media and people.

* Calm the alarm on Antarctic krill fishery says the respected Lowy Institute.

     → No, China is not sucking up all the krill in the Southern Ocean, leading to starving whales etc.

* 1.5m Penguin ‘Supercolony’ Discovered in Antarctica.

     → This is the poster-child species that was supposed to be ‘doomed’ by greenhouse warming. Looks like they may just have decamped north a bit, to get away from being constantly prodded and filmed by eco-worriers…

* A simple genetic tweak can triple the grain yield of sorghum, a vital everyday food in Africa.

     → This is from proper heavyweight scientists, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, reporting in Nature Communications. They “hope to apply the same strategy to increase grain production in related plants that are vital in the global food supply, such as rice, corn, and wheat.”

* Individual atoms may turn carbon dioxide into an energy.

     → It’s obviously ‘early days’, but it sounds good. It happens via a relatively simple and cheap nickel-graphene nano-mesh, and the new invention is “from the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York”, meaning that they’re proper heavyweight scientists and not some headline-grabbers from Whereizit Uni. “The team is now looking to find ways to scale up, with a view to large-scale production.”

* And lastly, the UK’s venerable Spectator has just launched a new Spectator USA edition and slick website.

     → It’s very positive to see a new heavyweight conservative site for news and commentary.

Something for the weekend, #3

Some recent optimism in the press:

* “Reasons to believe” outlines the main contents of the recent TIME magazine issue that contained Bill Gates’s special section on Optimism — The Manila Times, the Philippines.

  … regrettably, the rest of that TIME magazine issue read like a copy of Socialist Worker circa 1985.

* Why the Chinese are cheerful about the futureThe Age, Australia.

  … if you still believe in opinion polls.

* “Israeli breakthrough in noninvasive prostate cancer test”The Times of Israel.

  … looks very promising, though the news hasn’t yet been picked up by the press outside Israel.

* 10 science-proven facts that will help you be optimistic about the future.

   … [the book] “Progress: 10 Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, by Johan Norberg [was] published in English in 2017 and is now being published in other languages.”

* The launch of It’s Better than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear.

  … another major new book on the topic.