Tag Archives: NASA

I Love NASA…But Let’s End It

As a libertarian, I’m generally against government programs, but on occasion, I find myself in their corner on things I feel as a libertarian, I should not be.

Some are debatable, such as the role of the EPA. While I would argue that their core mission of protecting us from polluters who would do others real harm, there is little doubt they have grown into a legislative monster with regulations significantly more overbearing than the simple task of protecting our right to life they’re charged with.fef7711f-2675-4dbc-82aa-257d6b961731[1]

One organization that stands out in my mind as having no basis to exist is NASA. I cannot logically argue that they are performing any duty of government as enumerated in the Constitution—they protect no rights whatsoever. Nor can I argue that a poor person who needs every tax dollar they’re compelled to give government that is given to NASA, should be forced do so.

One thing about NASA I feel we should all know, but sadly most don’t—a major selling point to the American people when NASA was proposed before its eventual inception in 1958, is that NASA shares all of its information freely with the public. You might think this is no big deal at first, but nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s called spinoff, and the list is mind-numbing. Using a random example for instance, in 2007, NASA helped develop Thermawing, a de-icing system for airplanes large and small. The companies now making this product don’t owe NASA a dime. They got “free” research and development (R&D), which made a product much cheaper and more readily available for all to use.

If Thermawing had been developed privately, the company that might have developed it would have needed to spend a fortune on research—money they likely didn’t have, which would have driven costs so high, it may never have even come to market. But NASA is essentially a benevolent R&D sugar-daddy, and as such, many products we have today we have because the “free” R&D of NASA made them affordable enough to bring to market.Kelly-thermawing-detail[1]

NASA has also done an amazing job of inciting children to become future scientists. Many of today’s engineers and physicists would not be where they are today if they hadn’t heard those simple words, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As science is obviously very important to me, I’m very thankful for a most of the great work NASA has done, as we all should be. But at the end of the day, if I were president, I’d have no reason not to veto  every bill that crossed my desk to fund it.

There is no doubt they’ve served the greater good. But “the greater good” isn’t the duty of government, protecting rights is.nasa[1]

That’s the funny thing about being libertarian that many lose sight of. We can all think of things we are for or against that conflict with our views on the role of government, NASA is mine. But us libertarians often pride ourselves on standing up for liberty we don’t even agree with.

I hear Republicans say they’re for free speech, then vote for laws to prevent burning flags, or laws to quiet the Westboro Baptist Church assholes…er, I mean, parishioners.

I hear Democrats say they are for free speech, but then try to pass legislation that prevents the Koch brothers from publicly supporting liberty-minded candidates.

In both instances, they’re being hypocrites. Free speech isn’t about protecting speech you deem acceptable, it’s about letting people say and do whatever they want, no matter how heinous we might believe it is, so long as they aren’t violating the rights of someone else.

Personally, I think recreational drug use is a silly habit, but I fight for the right to legalize drugs, get rid of EMTALA which forces hospitals to treat everyone, then let natural selection and bad decisions run their course. It’s your life, if you want to end it with a needle in your arm or a pipe in your mouth, that’s your decision to make.BW-Girl-Smoking-Pot[1]

Libertarianism is about the right to be free, period. People often ask me if I like Hayek, Von Mises, or other libertarian economists, and I do. But I can honestly say I don’t care.

Even if I knew libertarianism would make the economy worse, (which I don’t believe for a minute) I would still support it, because to me, liberty is far more important.

If I knew libertarianism would lead to more gun deaths, or tragic accidents due to a lack of our current litany of warning labels on everything, I’d still support it. Tragic deaths are bad, but a loss of liberty to prevent them is even worse.

Every once in a while, people go skydiving, their chute fails, and they die. But we don’t ban skydiving. Divers learn from it instead. Every year we have thousands of vehicular deaths, but we don’t ban cars. We learn from them and build safer cars.

So why ban drugs or mandate warning labels that only serve the stupidest of people? Anyone smart enough to read a warning label on Liquid Drano should damn well be smart enough not to drink it.

It’s easy to champion some of the wonderful things government does, and NASA is easily at the top of that list for me. But by virtue of being tax-payer funded, it is ultimately a government agent putting a gun to our heads and compelling all of us to fund their scientific endeavors, and that I cannot abide.

So I have two choices: I can either be a hypocrite and support NASA while calling myself a libertarian, or I can see NASA in the same light as the postal service and AMTRAK, and support selling their interests to someone in the private sector and washing our hands of it. As much as I love NASA, I’ll choose the latter.



NASA and Global Warming: Respect The Method Or Don’t Do The Science

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

I don’t often weigh in on the global warming debate as I’m not a climatologist. I have made it clear however, that I believe in maintaining proper scientific skepticism in life.

First and foremost, I wish to say that I believe climatologists on both sides of the aisle have done good science. Mankind certainly produces a lot of CO2 which will no doubt have an effect on the environment, and these effects are worth investigating.

That being said, I wish to consider a few points.

Earth is rather large. Every organism living on this planet, along with objects in our solar system, are all variables that affect our climate. Accounting for all of them is nearly impossible.

The Blue Marble
The Blue Marble

Therefore, not accounting for all of them while making claims about how they will react to increased CO2 production, will always be educated guesswork.

Also, when climatologists make predictive models, as near as I can tell, they often make these models while assuming all other variables will either remain constant, or will not counteract the change, but instead merely succumb to it.

For example, imagine one were to observe two birds in their back yard; they look every day for a month, but on average, they always see about two birds. Now imagine this person throws a bag of bird seed in their back yard each day. Considering no other variable, one would assume the result would be an ever-growing pile of bird seed in their yard. In reality, their bird population of two would elevate to fifty or more birds, which wouldn’t result in a pile of bird seed as predicted, but a pile of bird poop instead.

With Earth being an ecosystem, as we animals (yes, humans are animals) produce more CO2, I’ve yet to hear anyone rule out that the plant kingdom, which would thrive in a CO2 rich environment, would not simply grow in numbers, evolve plants which consume more CO2, and/or spawn a new mechanism for filtering or consuming CO2 that we haven’t even imagined; in doing so, counteracting the increased greenhouse gasses produced by the increasing animal population. Just as the deer population, if left unchecked, will die of disease and famine, nature always seems to randomly, and quite unpredictably at times, find a way to maintain balance through evolution.

I’m not making this case mind you; again, I’m not a climatologist—please no hate mail. But one thing I do know is that predictive climate models have often been wrong. Eschewing climate science would be a terrible mistake, but let’s continue to compare actual results with predicted ones; leaving politics out of it for now, until we can accurately predict the effects, and effectively devise mechanisms to deal with the issues that we determine nature cannot naturally resolve for us.

There’s a saying I once heard that in science, most great discoveries are not followed with an exclamation of “Eureka, I’ve found it!” but instead, a far less exciting, “Hmm, that’s odd.”

Viagra was supposed to be a heart medication; it failed miserably. But oddly enough, it turns out Viagra can pitch a tent like a scout troop leader. Microwave ovens came about after Percy Spencer’s chocolate bar melted when placed near a magnetron and he wondered why. Post-it notes were a failed attempt at making a strong adhesive, which it clearly wasn’t. Instead of scrapping a million dollar project, 3M made lemonade out of lemons.

The list of happy accidents like these goes on forever. Science isn’t just about resolving a given issue, it’s also about investigating random discoveries that were often diversions along the way.

Sometimes however, good intentions can go seriously wrong. For instance, I took a tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; I highly recommend it. In Mammoth Cave, as with all caves, the temperature and the humidity are basically constants. Mammoth Cave is a cool and damp ≈54°F 24/7/365. In 1839, Dr. John Croghan, a sufferer of tuberculosis, observed that the cave’s cold and damp air made him feel refreshed and well.

Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA
Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA

He bought the cave and opened up a tuberculosis clinic inside it. Today, we know that warm and dry air is best for people suffering from TB, but Dr. Croghan found out the hard way that cold and damp air is bad for it—all 15 patients died. Dr. Croghan didn’t follow the scientific method, he proceeded based on anecdotal evidence and a hunch. Such science, when lives are at stake, while often informative by virtue of observed results, is dangerous and irresponsible.

Let’s look at the scientific method in a nutshell.

  • A person has a question that needs answered.
  • This person then runs tests and collects evidence.
  • Based on the evidence, a hypothesis is formed in an attempt to explain the question.
  • A person then tries to disprove their hypothesis, a process known as falsification. The purpose? If you have a valid hypothesis, it should be true under any tests one subjects it to.
  • If the hypothesis passes these tests, one then publishes it for peer review. They explain their method for coming to such conclusions, their methodology at attempting falsification, and then allow others to review it, debate it, attempt to falsify it, and/or attempt to replicate it with total consistency.
  • Once the hypothesis has passed all these steps, only then does it become accepted wisdom, or even accepted natural law, such as Isaac’s laws of motion.

Recently, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt went on FNC’s Stossel and made brilliant points about the research NASA has done on climate change . He laid out the testing they’ve done, explained how they eliminated other variables, and thus concluded that mankind is increasing the CO2 in the air, and that this ever-increasing CO2 production will cause detrimental climate change. Hearing him speak alone, you could be easily convinced he had done his homework and was spot on in his hypotheses. From there however, it all went wrong.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt
Dr. Gavin Schmidt

Good science, by definition, allows for more than one opinion, otherwise you merely have the will of one man—which is the basis of cult. ~ Quote from The Master (a movie loosely based on Scientology)

Gavin Schmidt refused to sit next to Dr. Roy Spencer, a climate change scientist himself, with proper credentials, who happens to be skeptical of the climate doomsday scenarios often portrayed by others. In doing so, violating the process of peer review and meaningful discussion. His reason? He said he wasn’t interested in being part of a political debate.

Dr. Roy Spencer
Dr. Roy Spencer

The discussion however was not about politics, it was about the science of climate change. If Gavin Schmidt is unwilling to have his science debated, he has zero business doing scientific research at all, especially on the taxpayer’s dime.

If his science is correct, there should be no fear in defending against a skeptic. Every objection the skeptic might raise should be easily explained and dismissed if Gavin has done a thorough job and come to proper conclusions. If he cannot overcome a skeptic’s objections, then guess what? That means it isn’t settled science and his work is incomplete or even possibly false.

Convincing people the Earth is round and that the sun doesn’t revolve around it took time. But barring the most ignorant of idiots, we all agree that these statements are true now.

Al Gore
Al Gore

Those purporting climate change need to stop sensationalizing like Al Gore, debate educated climate skeptics intelligently, and stop acting like we’re all idiots for not buying what they’re selling.

As for the politics of all this? I believe we should not bankrupt the nation based on phenomena that is still not fully understood, and legislators must recuse themselves from the debate until it is. Because much like me, they aren’t climatologists either.