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Comment Re:Why live there then? (Score 1) 80 80

Can you live in the Bay Area taking home 42k/year?

I did for years (also working for the state). I was living here for nearly a decade before I made more than that, in fact; as a grad student my stipend was less than $20k. I have no dependents or debts to pay off, no severe medical conditions, and my benefits were always sufficient, so it was actually very easy. I lived alone for the majority of that time, but even when I shared houses or apartments it was in relatively nice neighborhoods. (All rental, of course.) Until recently I was always living very close to where I worked. I usually had at least a little disposable income and by the time I was taking home more than $30K I was saving some of it.

That said, I live in the East Bay, not SF proper, so my rents are merely extortionate but not totally unaffordable. $42K won't go very far if you want to live in the Mission - and 10 years ago, it wasn't totally unrealistic for a (childless) grad student to have that ambition.

Honestly, from what I've seen I think senior government-employed or government-funded scientists in the Bay Area mostly get paid enough already (and I would include myself in that category until very recently). It's definitely more than we'd get in another part of the country, and we/they get to play with a lot of very cool (and very expensive) toys. But the cost of living is a huge problem for recruiting; a UC Berkeley professor of my acquaintance told me they were finding it increasingly difficult to hire new faculty because they'll never be able own a home anywhere close to Berkeley itself.

Comment Re:Time to recompile humanity (Score 1) 62 62

Yea just like non-coding DNA is junk. Does every generation have to make the same hubristic errors?

You're grossly overstating the case here. The fact that non-coding DNA contains essential regulatory information has been known for many decades, long before the modern age of genomics. The label "junk" was applied because nobody knew what most of that DNA did, and it obviously has very low information content compared to genes. But this pejorative never stopped people from studying it or trying to figure out what role it played - of course it imposes a significant metabolic cost on the organism, so why keep it around? We just haven't had mature tools to study it until relatively recently. Despite some sensationalism to the contrary, it's still far from resolved whether and how much it is functional; the best-supported hypothesis that I'm aware of is that it's structurally important and facilitates the 3D organization of the genome in cells in such a way that enhances regulatory control. We certainly don't have any clue how to derive therapeutic applications from our knowledge, unlike coding DNA (i.e. translated into proteins that most drugs target).

The claim that "mainstream biologists assumed that noncoding DNA was junk, and therefore asked the wrong questions" is simplistic nonsense at best, and creationist propaganda at worst. Scientific investigation - especially biology - proceeds on the basis of incomplete evidence all the time, because we have no choice (among other lacunae, we still don't understand what half of all human genes actually do). And unexpected new discoveries or inventions shake up molecular biology on a fairly regular basis - 10-15 years ago, RNA interference was thought to be equally revolutionary. So we always hope for surprises (all research faculty at major universities fantasize about making discoveries like Crispr/Cas), but we have to concentrate on areas of study that we feel are most likely to yield actual results.

Comment Re:If it ever takes off, no stopping it (Score 1) 62 62

I sort of despise the idea of patenting features of nature

I'm not sure I would call the therapeutic applications of Crispr/Cas a "feature of nature". Any actual therapy is going to consist of, at a minimum, a combination of synthetic RNA and orthologously expressed Cas9 (probably heavily engineered). This isn't something that exists naturally in humans. I'm generally pretty conservative about what I would consider patentable (software, or "all drugs targeting this protein", are not included), and, frankly, I think it would be better for everyone if the patents around Crispr/Cas were limited to specific treatments rather than the general concept. But regardless, any useful therapies are going to involve a great deal of engineering and trial-and-error - and clinical testing, which is going to be the most expensive part. What's the incentive to spend money on this if China ends up copying it? Don't say "for the good of humanity" - if that were the primary goal, money would be far better spent curing various endemic infectious diseases.

Comment Re:Agree and disagree here (Score 1) 275 275

This is in fact how the soviet union was able to compete for so long, but eventually it could not keep increasing the amount of resources that it mobilized.

I almost mentioned Russia in my comment - there was a time in the 1930s, when the US and Europe were stuck in the Depression, many Westerners thought that communism might end up totally eclipsing their (at the time) failed economies. And the USSR did grow from a nation of mostly peasants into an industrial superpower incredibly quickly. China has done much better so far, in large part because it mostly integrated with the global economy which was quick to take advantage of the cheap labor. But it is also making some of the same mistakes, as demonstrated by the "ghost cities", or the high-speed rail crash.

It is capitalism that more effectively makes better and better uses of the resources that are available, and its driven by greed.

I wouldn't say "greed", although that term certainly does apply in many cases; I would call it self interest, which isn't the same thing. The fact that our behavior (and economic activity) is greatly affected by incentives doesn't mean that we're greedy or foolish, it means we're human. It's amazing how many people on both the left and the right ignore this when it doesn't align nicely with their preferred policy goals.

Comment Re:Agree and disagree here (Score 1) 275 275

These things, combined with a population advantage, guarantee China's success long-term absent any other forces.

Only up to a point. Part of the reason why China has been enjoying enormous rates of economic growth is that it had so far to go. Once their economy and standard of living starts to get much closer to that of the existing advanced industrial economies, and they lose their advantage of cheap labor, all they're left with is the population advantage. And they'll be busy strip-mining the third world in the meantime, which means they'll probably overreach sooner or later and piss everyone off as badly as the US has. (And the US at least has NATO allies, and reasonably friendly relations with neighboring countries.)

Comment Re:Waste of Time & Money (Score 1) 275 275

I don't think the GP was limiting the scope to science missions - instead, we should also be developing robotic missions to prepare for eventual humans. And more than just robots; even stuff as relatively trivial as 3D printers will make the difference between sustainable human presence versus short-term missions that won't last. There are many other components: better radiation shielding, genetically optimized plants, improved solar cells, and so on.

Remember, ISS is only a few hundred feet up and it's still insanely expensive to service. If we want affordable permanent settlement on the moon or Mars, we need to limit the number of supply trips.

Comment Re:instead of space race (Score 1) 275 275

A big part of the reason why this won't happen is that space-related technology tends to be inherently dual-use, i.e. much of it has military purposes. In fact, that's probably the single biggest reason why there was a space race at all in the 1950s/1960s. Since China is already known to be developing military capabilities specifically to counter the US navy/naval air, and has ongoing territorial disputes with at least five neighboring countries that I can think of offhand (several of which are close US allies), it would be ill-advised of the US to make it easier for them.

Comment Re:It's kinda cute (Score 3, Insightful) 445 445

nobody outside the US even remotely takes that "controversy" serious

Hell, most scientists inside the US don't take the "controversy" seriously, or even notice it most of the time. The only reason most of us care is because those fuckwits keep trying to legislate their mythology into the public schools, otherwise they'd be worth no more thought than, say, flat-earthers or faith healers. And in large parts of the country, e.g. liberal urban areas like the one I live in, it's not even an issue in schools either. (God knows our public schools have enough other problems...)

Comment Re:Why is this dribble on the front page? (Score 4, Insightful) 445 445

identified Christians as potential extremists

Identified specific Christians as potential extremists. And they do exist - why is this in any way a surprise? Every faith-based ideology (Marxism obviously falls into this category) eventually attracts violent nutjobs. Even Buddhism has violent extremists, some of whom are currently hard at work ethnically cleansing a Muslim minority in Myanmar. There are also left-wing environmentalist extremists, along with Maoists and anarchists, all of whom the DHS and FBI also track.

Among other things, I find it curious that DHS was searching so hard for "non-Islamist" extremists - almost like Islamist extremists had DHS tacit approval.

The fact that most worldwide religious extremists are currently Muslim does not mean we should give a free pass to domestic extremists just because they happen to follow your preferred religion. (And what makes you so certain that the DHS wasn't investigating domestic Islamists too?) Since Christians are an overwhelming majority in the US, it is certainly logical to look for extremists in that population, especially since they may have an easier time blending in, and there are existing organized extremist groups, some of which have a long history of violence. (I should note that Timothy McVeigh was an "honorably discharged military veteran".)

Comment Re:Real Science Is No Longer In the Academic Lab (Score 1) 444 444

It will never again occur in academic labs, because academics has been undermined by the multiple generations of decreasingly literate students.

The students you describe don't end up in academic labs, at least not for any job more important than cleaning glassware. Everyone doing real work already has a BS degree at a minimum, and most of them either hold PhDs or are in graduate programs. (Also, a huge fraction of them are immigrants, at least in the US.) Some of them are pretty sloppy nonetheless, but there's absolutely not a surplus of semi-literate scientists in academic research (as opposed to small technical colleges).

Comment Re:sophistry (Score 1) 444 444

I'm just saying that the science rot we're seeing is not coming out of the corporate labs.

Corporate labs have a very different incentive system, and at least in most areas of the biomedical sciences, they publish far less in peer-reviewed journals. What they do publish will usually be better vetted, but this comes at the expense of taking much longer - because, of course, their scientists aren't dependent on (rapid) publication for career advancement. (The issue of applied vs. directed research is a separate problem - very few companies can afford to do truly undirected basic research.) There are certainly things that could be changed about academia to mitigate the problem; the current system of grad students and postdocs doing most of the work in academia is a disaster. (I say this as someone who has spent more than a decade in this system.)

Where you err is assuming that you can simply weed out the bad actors through some kind of personality test. Contrary to your supposition, very few people go into academic research for any impure motivation, and it isn't simply a problem with the people in power. Much of the fraud and incompetence is produced by junior researchers who aren't rich or famous or powerful, and are motivated solely by the need to advance to the next stage in their careers. And there are plenty of examples of people who are motivated in part by "money or power or attention", but also manage to do excellent science at the same time. (Craig Venter is one obvious example, but there are plenty of pure academics who are equally ego-driven.) But in general, everyone following this career path is fundamentally interested in and excited by science, otherwise they would have become doctors or bankers.

Comment Re:Maybe science went off the rails... (Score 4, Informative) 444 444

Mann will sue your ass off, an innovation he has personally added to the scientific method.

Mann didn't sue anyone for hurting his feelings, or claiming he was wrong - he sued them for claiming, very explicitly, that he had committed fraud, and for calling him "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science".

Comment Re: Capitalize on JS (Score 1) 271 271

Doing AJAX through jQuery these days is only acceptable in small stand-alone pieces of your application.

Care to clarify? I'm not familiar with any of the modern MVC frameworks so I don't understand what the alternatives are as far as AJAX is concerned. I certainly hope we're not expected to deal with XMLHTTPRequests directly...

Comment Re:Russian accident? (Score 1) 96 96

Was I the only one disappointed that the video on the CNN site didn't involve a huge explosion, preferably upon hitting ground? I find some of these launch failure videos almost pornographic.

(Yes, I realize it's much better for the rocket to burn up in orbit instead of crashing in a populated area.)

FORTRAN is for pipe stress freaks and crystallography weenies.