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Comment: Re:What about efficiency? (Score 1) 90

by the gnat (#48556225) Attached to: Berkeley Lab Builds World Record Tabletop-Size Particle Accelerator

Anyone know what the efficiencies are on these sorts of "tabletop" laser particle accelerators versus say a linac? I'm curious as to whether it'd make an effective "tabletop" spallation neutron source

I don't know about efficiency, but the problem with the tabletop synchrotrons (which accelerate electrons, but X-rays are the primary product) is that their X-ray flux is much lower than the football-field-sized rings, which means they're not as useful for molecular imaging applications. My guess would be that the same problem would apply to a tabletop neutron source.

Comment: Re: Standard M.O. (Score 1) 148

by xmundt (#48527675) Attached to: How the NSA Is Spying On Everyone: More Revelations

The Grand Jury does not make a determination of the defendant's guilt or innocence. All it does is determine if they should go to trial. Since too often they are the prosecutor's hand puppets, the NYC and Ferguson Grand Jury results simply mean that the Prosecutor's office decided to give the cops a pass. If you think it was because they were not, even misguided, is a wonderful thing to see

Comment: Re:"Physics" (Score 1) 289

by the gnat (#48492731) Attached to: Physicist Kip Thorne On the Physics of "Interstellar"

I'd even say there has been very little fundamentally new stuff for the last 100 years.

Depends on what area of technology, and what you consider "new" as opposed to a "technical refinement" or "manufacturing advance". Does the transistor count, or is that just an incremental improvement on vacuum tubes? The physics required to build, say, an iPhone were mostly understood by the 1920s, and I don't think there was any theoretical work suggesting that it was impossible. On the other hand, the concept of ubiquitous handheld multi-functional computing and communication devices connected by a global network containing nearly all human knowledge required levels of technology that couldn't even be guessed at.

If you consider the life sciences instead, our background knowledge is as far beyond 1920s biology as the iPhone is beyond the telegraph, and revolutionary discoveries and technical advances are still being made.

Comment: Re:Recognize the crisis in US Big Pharma... (Score 1) 70

by the gnat (#48467849) Attached to: Canada's Ebola Vaccine Nets Millions For Tiny US Biotech Firm

Free market indeed, it's funny when the market is far freer in a politically communist nation

China has a huge number of trade barriers, including price caps on pharmaceuticals. The other half of the "free(er) market" you're describing is a failure to enforce IP rights (or, possibly, failure by companies to file the relevant patent applications in China, but that seems unlikely), so that pharma companies are having to compete with generic products that would be illegal in the US. You can applaud this if you like, but it's not generally considered a good environment for inventing new drugs.

Comment: Re:50 MILLION DOLLARS! (Score 1) 70

by the gnat (#48467789) Attached to: Canada's Ebola Vaccine Nets Millions For Tiny US Biotech Firm

Of course an experimental ebola vaccine wasn't worth that much in 2010 since the Africans needing it then didn't have lots of cash to pay for it.

Also: it's experimental, which by definition means that someone has to invest a lot of time and money figuring out if it actually works. Drug companies license experimental therapies like this all the time. Nine times out of ten (probably more), they're buying something that turns out to be worthless. When they actually get hold of something that really works, of course it looks like a steal in retrospect, but there's no way to predict that in advance. (Although I do sometimes wonder why academic IP holders don't push for profit-sharing agreements more often.)

Comment: Re:How long will it take slashdot to spin this? (Score 3, Insightful) 106

by the gnat (#48305827) Attached to: Gates Donates $500M+ To Fight Malaria and Other Diseases

All he does is pushing corporate interests

What corporate interests are involved in curing malaria? The entire reason that Bill Gates is subsidizing these efforts is that there isn't much financial incentive for Big Pharma to develop drugs for diseases that primarily afflict people in Third World nations.

Comment: Re:The World is Overcrowded (Score 2) 106

by the gnat (#48305799) Attached to: Gates Donates $500M+ To Fight Malaria and Other Diseases

this is natures way of making sure the world doesn't get overcrowded. It's a sad fact but people NEED to die.

Then how do you explain the fact that some of the countries with the highest life expectancies, and almost no severe endemic diseases, are also the ones with the slowest-growing (or even shrinking) populations?

Comment: Re:How long will it take slashdot to spin this? (Score 1) 106

by the gnat (#48305783) Attached to: Gates Donates $500M+ To Fight Malaria and Other Diseases

Reduce the rate of people, and especially children, dying and there will just be a lot more dying a generation down the road when they exceed what they can feed/house/employ/etc. again.

Actually, this has it almost exactly backwards: reducing infant mortality has been a major cause of stabilizing population growth. Increasing prosperity also helps a great deal, and there's a strong argument that malaria is a huge economic drain.

If you are messing with a complex system and do not understand its inner workings, you are on the road to hell. Or maybe he just does not care.

Or maybe he doesn't share your misanthropic view of humanity, and your insistence that "those people" need to stop breeding before they can enjoy the comforts of Western civilization?

Comment: Re:So What? (Score 1) 669

by the gnat (#48260203) Attached to: Pope Francis Declares Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Right

But isn't this the same reason that evangelicals have traditionally distrusted Catholicism, and one of the main selling points of fundamentalist Christianity? Catholicism is pretty much the exemplar of organized religion: doctrine is determined by the church hierarchy rather than the text of the Bible, which of course has been prone to all kinds of abuse, and the dependency on church membership for salvation gives the institution immense secular power. With fundamentalism, on the other hand, all that matters is accepting Jesus as lord and savior, and following the text of the Bible, which has been static for many centuries (ignoring the translation issue for now) and isn't prone to tampering by present-day authorities. (My understanding was that this is one of the same attractions of Islamic law elsewhere in the world.) Given the history of the Catholic church in medieval Europe, I can see why this would be attractive to the spiritually-minded (which I am definitely not).

Comment: Re: That's the part that "counts" (groan) (Score 2) 443

by the gnat (#48257577) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

The whole "commercial" launch thing is a misnomer. It's business as usual, except that this time NASA does less micromanagement, and there are some new faces at the table. That's all.

And the contracts won't be cost-plus, meaning the contractors don't have a blank check and projects will actually have to stay on budget. There may be legitimate arguments why this is a bad idea for a national space program (personally, I disagree), but it does represent a rather large change from the way launches were done in the past.

Comment: Re:Falsifiability (Score 1) 282

by the gnat (#48231241) Attached to: High Speed Evolution

What is the case in which you would -not- call a biological change "evolution", and how is that different from the mere criteria for "reproduction"?

To start with, any time the change was brought about by deliberate, external intervention. For example, Bt-expressing corn, or glyphosphate-resistant crops, are obvious examples of "intelligent design" in the literal, non-pseudoscientific sense. We know this because "we" (i.e. humans) made these modifications ourselves, by a known and reproducible mechanism. I would argue that conventional breeding isn't really "evolution" either, although it relies on more natural phenomena rather than direct genome manipulation.

The fact that these biological changes are genuinely intelligent design does not prove the general case, however, because we've only had the technology for direct genetic manipulation for a few decades, and only know about selective breeding for a few millennia. For other biological changes, we assume evolution, because the directly observed mechanisms by which evolution operates rely on processes that we know have been possible for hundreds of millions of years (if not billions). If you want us to start considering intelligent design, you need to demonstrate a mechanism that predates human civilization.

"No job too big; no fee too big!" -- Dr. Peter Venkman, "Ghost-busters"