Archive for November, 2019

Nov 04 2019

The Problem with Bill Maher

Published by under Skepticism

Bill Maher is a divisive figure among skeptics because he is somewhat of a contradiction. On the one hand he is capable of taking down certain forms of irrationality with humor and satire in a very effective way. He is a warrior and an entertainer, and when he is championing something we agree with, we love it. But then he takes positions that are as irrational as the ones he attacks. So there is definitely a “glass half-full” issue with perception.

I see Maher as a cautionary tale – clearly there is something wrong with his process, and since he is trying to be skeptical but also clearly failing, we should perhaps try to figure out what that is. I have no personal insight into the man, I can only base my judgement on information in the public domain. However, that information is substantial since he has a regular TV show in which he espouses his views.

Let’s consider the latest episode which has inspired another round of skeptical outrage. On a recent show he had on Dr. Jay Gordon, infamous anti-vaccine pediatrician, and essentially agreed with his anti-vaccine nonsense. Here is Dave Gorski’s review over at SBM. And here are a couple of Maher’s key points:

“You know, to call you this crazy person—really, what you’re just saying is slower, maybe less numbers, and also take into account individuals. People are different. Family history, stuff like that. I don’t think this is crazy. The autism issue, they certainly have studied it a million times… and yet, there’s all these parents who say, I had a normal child, got the vaccine… this story keeps coming up. It seems to be more realistic to me, if we’re just going to be realistic about it.”

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Nov 01 2019

Musk Wants the Moon by 2022

Published by under Technology

From SpaceX we get the following statement:

“Aspirationally, we want to get Starship to orbit within a year. We definitely want to land it on the Moon before 2022. We want to […] stage cargo there to make sure that there are resources for the folks that ultimately land on the Moon by 2024, if things go well, so that’s the aspirational time frame.”

That is quite aspirational. People have mixed feelings about Elon Musk, who tends to dream big but not always deliver. But sometimes he does, and SpaceX has perhaps been his most successful endeavor. His goal is to make commercial spaceflight practical and reduce the cost of getting into space. His primary mechanism for that is the development of the reusable rocket, which SpaceX has perfected. By now you have probably seen video of SpaceX rockets landing vertically. To me that accomplishment wins Musk an eternal place in the pantheon of awesome people.

A the very least that has earned him the right to be taken seriously when he states his next big goal for space. SpaceX has developed the Falcon 9 followed by the Falcon Heavy, both of which have been flying successfully with many recoveries of the rocket boosters, as they were designed. They have also developed the Dragon capsule, which has successfully autonomously docked with the ISS, and is able to deliver and return cargo. The first crewed mission is scheduled to go up in 2020, and that will hopefully end our dependence on Russia for lifts to the space station.

Meanwhile NASA is developing its Orion spacecraft system, with the first crewed flight of its new capsule slated for 2022. NASA originally planned to return to the Moon by 2028, but the Trump administration arbitrarily asked them to move that up to 2024. NASA is dutifully complying, but many are skeptical they will be able to achieve that accelerated timeline.

On top of all this SpaceX is developing an entirely new spacecraft, called Starship. This is a completely independent system, so it will not use any of the major components from the Falcon, Falcon Heavy, or Dragon capsule. Starship is a two-stage system – there is the Starship spacecraft and the Super heavy rocket, collectively referred to as Starship. The Super heavy rocket will get the spacecraft into Earth orbit and then return and land to be reused. The Starship spacecraft will then be able to travel into higher Earth orbit, return to Earth for fast long-distance travel, or travel to the Moon, Mars, or other deep space destinations.

The top third of Starship is for crew or cargo, with various possible configurations. The lower two-thirds are for fuel. The craft will be able to land intact on the Moon or Mars and then lift off again for return to Earth, and ultimate reuse. The Starship is what SpaceX plans to take to the Moon by 2022.

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