Wednesday, April 11, 2012

One giant leap for Yuri, two steps back for mankind.

Science Vs Politics series.

April 12th, known as Yuri’s night, is a time when we celebrate the birth of manned spaceflight and exploration. And this one was a particularly special one, 50 years since Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, the first man to orbit the Earth, and the first hero of many young kids who grew up wanting to be Astro/Cosmonauts.

Since Yuri’s triumph we have also dome some pretty spectacular things, we went to the moon…6 times, we have explored our solar system and the universe with satellites like Hubble and Cassini-Huygens, we have had an almost constant human presence in space with space stations like Mir, Skylab, International Space Station, Space Shuttle etc.

But why have we stopped there? The answer…money.

There is no scientific barrier, stopping us from returning to the Moon, or going to Mars. Money, therefore politics, is the thing holding us on this planet. Although not a new idea, in the absence of massive government support, you need cost-effectiveness. At the moment, space exploration is not cost-effective, so what we have to rely on is massive government support, which we don’t have.

As the deciders of where public money is spent, our political representatives should have a better appreciation for space exploration and what it can do for us, etc. I think the main problem is that a space program will take time, maybe 10-15 years to complete and that’s a too long in politics world. Any political decision has direct consequences in at most 4 years, so understandably, funding a 15 year manned space exploration program is simply out of the question.

We are really good at exploring, it’s what humans do. Throughout history, no matter what political or societal issues of the time have been, we still explore, I believe it is the greatest of all human and scientific endeavours. In fact I see it as our responsibility. We are the only living being that we know of with the intelligence to explore space, yet it is made impossible to do so by our governments.

My solution/suggestion is in principle fairly simple. Get off the planet! We need to send colonisers to Mars and in addition I suggest the Moon, Venus, and Titan and by the time we have been there, we will probably have found other places to go.

I can offer the following political incentives:
  • A space faring nation is a powerful and educated nation
  • With research into space exploration comes innovation
  • Space exploration is a multi-disciplinary effort
  • Political drive will push public interest, which in turn pushes funding
  • There are countless types and amounts of natural resources out there
And the following thoughts that I think are scary:
  • When we think of aliens, we think iof interplanetary beings possibly coming to our planet for some sort of exploitation. To them, we are the aliens.
  • What chance do we have if finding intelligent life on other worlds if we wont even venture off our own?
  • if we continue to mess up our planet like we are to the point where we make ourselves extinct...that is it, no more humanity.
Granted, sending people on a one way trip to Mars or back to the Moon would be a hard political move to make, risky for sure, but it worked for J.F.K.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The rules

Science Vs Politics series.

Science is a game, with rules. The rules are simple and you can’t break them. People try and cheat, but that never ends well.
  • Research. Find out if people have done this before. If they have, maybe you can learn something from their hard work.
  • Record. Observation is nothing without data to back it up. or as Edwin Hubble put it “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure, science”
  • Repeat. Your results must be repeatable, not just by you, by others as well.
  • Consult widely. Once you've lost the community's trust, you'll never get it back.'
  • Always try quiet diplomacy first. Once you're in a public dispute, you've already lost.'
  • Follow-through is paramount.'
  • Keep your sense of humour. It makes all other rules possible.

There are a number of laws in science, such as Newtons laws of gravity, the Laws of thermodynamics etc, and the one rule here is, you must obey these laws. but I want to go a little bit more broad with the rules of science. When we do science, what rules do we follow? I have identified the following rules of the game we call science.
Politics is also a game, sometimes it seems like a very immature game of schoolyard name calling, but what are the rules here? and what happens if you break them?

The rules of politics are as follows:

Here’s a clear cut example of how the rules of science and politics differ:
Our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, had a great idea to enforce a server level Internet filter. This means, that there are certain websites that are blocked from us visiting them. It puts the responsibility of who accesses what onto the server, not the consumer.
This is great, right up until the point where it doesn’t work! Many examples were shown of how this Internet filter does not work, Wikileaks had a whole number of leaks to do with the fact that the filter is useless. During the Internet filter trial, I found a whole heap of instructional videos from teenagers, showing us how to get around it. The ABC program ‘Hungry Beast’ also gave a quick in principle guide about how to bypass the filter. Further, the filter has managed to block sites that are clearly not dangerous. Sites like personal home pages with innocent content and businesses such as a Queensand dentists page. Added to all of that, the government refuses to publish the blacklisted websites.

Here’s where science and politics differ. In science, if your experiment doesn’t work, you have to change your hypothesis. In this case, Stephon Conroy just stuck to his message. Also not only does the experiment have to be repeatable, it has to be be repeated by your peers, It is called peer review, and it is one of the of the backbones of science research. In this case, your peers Senator Conroy, (13 year old school kids) have proven that your results can not be repeated.
This was a fail for politics, and by my reckoning, a fail for science too, due to the fact that the political arguments were accepted, despite ALL scientific evidence against the decision. It begs the question, “who wins?”
All the rules of science have been adhered to, as I said before, you actually can’t break them or, by definition, you are not doing science. Whereas at least 3 of the four identified rules of politics have been been broken.And it seems as though the punishment for breaking these political rules, is lots of funding and waste of public money on a technology that doesn't work.
I can see and agree with the principles of the idea. Protecting children, I'm all for that. But the clear disregard for evidence and common sense annoys me. True, we are not doing scientific research, but a little application of some of the principles of scientific processes would surely strengthen your argument or even help you to get a better policy.
I’m a big advocate of strong social policies, but I would also like to see some scientific common sense and awareness on discussions like this. 
I guess the same could be said for the climate change debate, but I might leave that for another time.