Sunday Reading: Spaceplanes, Silencing Scientists, and Skepticism

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Hey, look at that! We’ve got a little light alliteration in our title today, inspired in no small part by the excellent Canada’s Least-Watched Political Podcast. We’ve had CLWPP as a member of spillway(radio) for a couple of months now, and it’s been a blast. Big things are on the horizon with that show, and Greg, Will and I are very excited about the conversations we’ve been having about it.

It’s a sunny day in Ottawa and, after breakfast, spillway’s Top Dog and I took a walk by the river. Here’s some labradoodle joy while you settle in to read some stuff.

Leo was pretty happy for a sunny walk by the water. Very therapeutic. We'll see how nice it is in the winter.
Leo was pretty happy for a sunny walk by the water. Very therapeutic. We’ll see how nice it is in the winter.

The Next Space Shuttle: Hybrid Engines Make Runway-to-Orbit Missons a Reality – Nicole Dyer,

Photo credit Nick Kaloterakis, via
Photo credit Nick Kaloterakis, via

Anyone who plays Kerbal Space Program knows that SSTO (single stage to orbit) spaceplanes are kind of the holy grail. I have yet to make a successful one, even with all the mods available. They’re kind of the dream here in the real world, too, and build on the promise of the Space Shuttle. The idea that something can take off from a runway without wasteful external fuel tanks, enter orbit, fly around like a spaceship, and then land on a conventional runway again is incredibly appealing, and run counter to a lot of current mainstream development like the SpaceX Dragon that’s been resupplying the International Space Station, or even NASA’s Space Launch System. The Dragon and the SLS are both old-school designs, modular towers of propellants and oxidizers that dramatically reduce their weights as they shed spent fuel tanks and unneeded boosters. The SABRE engines developed by Skylon Reaction Engines is a different beast entirely. They start off as high-efficiency air-breathing jet engines, and flip over to operate like conventional rocket engines once there’s no longer enough air to run the jets. It looks like it’ll take about another $20 billion to get this concept off the ground, but the dramatic reduction in mission cost and increase to reusability that we’d get out of this beast makes this seem like a smart investment to me. Plus, it looks damn cool. Read More

Silencing Scientists – Verilyn Klinkenbourg, New York Times

I try to avoid posting editorials here (goodness knows I editorialize enough on the blog) but this is worth pointing out once again: the Prime Minister’s Office is acting as a filter between federal scientists (especially climate scientists) and the public. We are compared, unfavourably, to the kind of leashing done during the Bush II administration. And this editorial has a spectacular explanation of why this muzzling is so dangerous — it violates the very basis of what makes science work as a discipline:

Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.

I hate to think that providing poorer education for the public is a goal of this government, but then again, they are also crippling the mandate of the Museum of Civilization, which I ranted about on CLWPP, so maybe there’s more to this than I want to accept. Read More

IPCC Climate Report – Matt McGrath, BBC News

Predicted change from period 1986-2005 to 2081-2100. Image credit IPCC report. Via
Predicted change from period 1986-2005 to 2081-2100. Image credit IPCC report. Via

The UN’s climate panel has come back with their conclusions: With 95% certainty, global warming is real and anthropogenic, meaning it’s our fault.

One thing I need to point out: This 95% is not the same as the 97% figure you normally see kicked around with regards to climate change. The usual figure, with some variance, is that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and that it’s human-caused. This is a statistical analysis of all the studies, comparing results and doing regressions to figure out what EXACTLY all the research shows. From that analysis, we get a predicted result, which measures in at 95% accuracy, after accommodating for variance and uncertainty. That’s a pretty damn good result. Bad for us, but good for scientific methodology.

Don’t just read the article at the Beeb, though. Also read the report’s summary, which is available on the same page. Also read something about Bayesian analysis and probabilistic statistical analysis. Basically, just go Read More


This Week on Spillway

TEDx Isn’t Dead. But Science Education Might Be – by Trevor. A challenge to Natural News’ takedown of TEDx’s recent policy shift on what topics will be allowed at independent events.

Canada’s Least-Watched Political Podcast 8: Conservatives, Catholics, Consumers, and Collisions – by Greg and Will. The Ontario PC Party is having their policy convention, and Will and Greg have a lot to say about it.

DIHARD 85: Last Burn Into Darkness – by Di. Star Trek Into Darkness and Burn Notice finale discussion.

DIHARD 86: Doomsday – by Di. World War Z, Nerdist stuff, marching band music, and more.


Thanks for reading, folks! And, as always, paddle your own canoe.

Now go outside and take advantage of the last of the sun before it’s gone!




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