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Comment: Re:Big Whoop. (Score 2) 87

by the gnat (#46803271) Attached to: SpaceX Successfully Delivers Supplies To ISS

Or, convince me that without the initial public investment, any private company would have done the basic research required to send the first satellite into space.

It's not my job to convince you that the private sector would have magically brought about the space age without government intervention, because that isn't what I'm arguing in the first place. Sure, there are lots of examples of technology invented (or aggressively developed) by governments - pretty much anything with military utility, in particular, which includes computers, the Internet, radar, jet engines, and especially anything to do with space. The key detail here is that most of these eventually developed independently and became consumer technologies, rather that continuing to be government programs indefinitely. Yes, this means that private companies eventually get rich because of public sector investment; it's also what makes it possible for us to be having this argument right now. Without Colossus or ENIAC, there would be no iPhone, but if computers and the Internet had been managed like manned spaceflight was, there wouldn't be an iPhone either.

The other important and essential outcome is that it needs to be not just profitable but sustainable; continuing to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into something that never gets cheaper is anything but. SpaceX has already made unmanned launches cheaper; the shuttle program lasted for three decades and it was still hideously expensive when it ended.

The reason this is exciting news is that it's real progress towards making manned space travel yet another consumer technology. Maybe it won't work, or maybe it will only ever be affordable by large companies and the rich; I don't expect to be personally taking any rocket trips before I die. But the same could have been (and probably was) said about airplanes a century ago, and I was never going to be able to ride on the space shuttle either. At least someone is trying to change the way things are done, and doing a decent job of it so far. So what if SpaceX piggybacking off years of government investment? If their business model works, at least we won't have to continue wasting money on something that should have been commodified decades ago, and NASA will be able to focus on science and basic research (and stretch their budget further). Everyone wins.

Comment: Re:I just can't get excited about SpaceX (Score 2) 87

by the gnat (#46802329) Attached to: SpaceX Successfully Delivers Supplies To ISS

Some private company with a shitload of government backing does what we used to be able to do 40 years ago on our own

This is missing the point entirely. All of the past NASA rockets were also built by private companies with a shitload of government backing. Unlike those companies, SpaceX does not have a blank check; Musk's goal is to be both inexpensive and profitable. Maybe it won't work, but at least someone is trying for a change.

Comment: Re:Big Whoop. (Score 5, Interesting) 87

by the gnat (#46802309) Attached to: SpaceX Successfully Delivers Supplies To ISS

Forty-three years later, private industry figures out how to send a rocket up there. With taxpayers footing the bill.

Unlike every previous launch, however, we the taxpayers are paying a fixed price to SpaceX, instead of the bloated cost-plus contracts that are large part of the reason why there hasn't been much progress in manned spaceflight in the last four decades. Not all of the free-market claims about government inefficiency are nonsense - the previous contractors (all "private industry", loosely defined) had no incentive to develop reusable rockets, because the government just kept paying for new ones.

Comment: Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (Score 1) 135

by the gnat (#46770379) Attached to: U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

This is the thing. Its like the abortion debate. MY body.

Again, you're not understanding my point. I'm not arguing with patient choice, I'm against companies marketing snake oil, which is one of the specific reasons that the FDA exists. The difference between these drugs and most other phony cures is that the drugs can actually kill you. I feel the same way about tobacco - I think people should be allowed to do anything they want as long as they don't harm anyone else, but I'm totally in favor of bans on cigarette ads. The distinction is between allowing potentially unsafe behavior, versus encouraging it.

Comment: Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (Score 1) 135

by the gnat (#46759503) Attached to: U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

I am a HUGE believer in individual choice. If the consumer chooses to buy or use something that isn't government approved... that is their choice. Obviously make it clear to them so they don't do it by accident... but that's about it.

I don't disagree with this, but a key issue is marketing and insurance coverage, not availability. Drugs that are legally available to consumers can't be marketed for purposes other than the conditions they were approved to treat, and companies have paid billions of dollars in fines for violating these rules. That doesn't prevent doctors from prescribing the drugs off-label, but insurance companies usually won't cover this (I know, I've tried), and because these uses can't be marketed, the revenues are vastly lower. I am 100% in favor of experimentation and consumer choice, but I don't like seeing companies push drugs with potentially debilitating side effects on people without actual evidence that they work.

Comment: Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (Score 1) 135

by the gnat (#46757463) Attached to: U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

consider that we might do well to push a lot of these bio medical researchers at the private sector

Many of us would love to move to the private sector. There's just aren't a lot of jobs there either. In my current specialty, there are hundreds of postdoctoral fellowships (and maybe a dozen faculty openings) for every industry position. I have much broader expertise than that, but employers typically aren't interested in anyone who doesn't fit the exact list of criteria that HR prepared. I've basically spent the last 6 years working as a full-time software developer but I can't even get responses to job applications because I'm still in academia, and competing with CS graduates with the right buzzwords on their resumes.

Obviously my choice of career path was poor, but there isn't some magic solution that can retroactively fix that problem.

Comment: Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (Score 1) 135

by the gnat (#46757383) Attached to: U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

They say that they spend so much money complying with the FDA that they have very little for anything else.

That's because the FDA requires actual proof that a drug does what it's claimed to do before they'll let it be marketed as such - oh, and it has to not have debilitating side effects. If we got rid of the FDA, the barriers to market would be vastly lower, but we'd be flooded with a huge number of placebos with deadly side effects. Really, it's shocking how often drug candidates make it to Phase III trials only to discover that they're effectively useless. Do you really want to get rid of that filter?

Comment: Re:No shit, Sherlock (Score 1) 135

by the gnat (#46757319) Attached to: U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

The pernicious influence of this 'Federal technical complex' has led to an entire generation of scientists who believe that the only credible source of funding must be the federal government.

Actually, none of us really believe that. In fact, most of us would love to have more options than crawling back to the NIH every five years, and would also prefer not to worry about whether the hacks in DC will fuck everything up for us. The problem is that the governments really are the largest source of funding and there are limited prospects to replace that. Wealthy philanthropists are great but it's hard to find enough of those to shell out the equivalent of the NIH budget. Companies are rarely interested in spending money on anything they can't turn into a product in the shortest possible amount of time - in the life sciences, only a tiny handful of them do anything resembling "basic research".

The comparison to the "solitary inventor" of the past is irrelevant, because up until recently you didn't need much technology to make some pretty important discoveries. Unfortunately, as science advances, each incremental discovery tends to require steadily greater investments in equipment and infrastructure, which creates a huge barrier to entry. Additionally, the body of knowledge is so immense that it takes years to acquire the technical knowledge to tackle most research projects independently.

Comment: Re:They do have a point (Score 4, Informative) 588

by the gnat (#46746389) Attached to: Jenny McCarthy: "I Am Not Anti-Vaccine'"

The mercury level in a dose of a vaccine is less than the amount you might get from eating a tuna steak.

It's also in a different form - fish contain methylmercury, which is extremely toxic, while thimerosol is metabolized to ethylmercury, which isn't something you want to have a lot of in your system, but isn't as awful.

Comment: Re:This is an ancient one... (Score 2) 588

by the gnat (#46746351) Attached to: Jenny McCarthy: "I Am Not Anti-Vaccine'"

There is no credible evidence that the vaccines are unsafe.

Minor pedantic quibble: some vaccines are unsafe for a very small subset of the population, mainly people with compromised immune systems or severe allergies to components of the vaccines. I'm pretty sure doctors check for this before sticking the needle in. These people are one of the reasons why herd immunity is so important, because the only thing protecting them from certain diseases is the fact that the rest of the population can't act as carriers. Most of us won't be harmed if one of Jenny McCarthy's kids coughs on us, because we've had the shots - but the unlucky few who really can't get vaccinated are screwed.

Comment: Re:I'm an OK violinist (Score 1) 469

Bassoonist here too - I'm currently saving for a new Fox, since I'll never be able to afford a house where I live anyway. But we're unusual; none of the other winds cost nearly that much, although those players are more likely to buy auxiliary instruments.

String players definitely have it much worse, but a really top-of-the-line new violin isn't going to cost that much more than a new Heckel bassoon. Anyway, these are still orders of magnitude less than some of the older instruments. Simply the name "Stradivarius" inevitably counts for somewhere near $1 million regardless of quality (the same way the Heckel label guarantees a buyer for anything that isn't rotting from the inside).

Comment: Re:The value of a Stradivarius (Score 2) 469

This is 100% about entertainment, so the Strad may be better IF you are allowed to tell the audience that is what you are playing.

You can be certain that if a string player is using an instrument by a famous maker, it will be specifically mentioned in the program. Wind players only mention the brand of instrument they play on if they're paid to endorse it - of course most wind players seldom play on anything more than a few decades old.

Comment: Re:Moo (Score 3, Informative) 469

If that were the case, then you'd expect them to think the older, more valuable one sounded better right away, not the newer, less special one; so this seems to be a statement against confirmation bias.

The problem is that the quote I was addressing was comparing a more subjective, post-hoc judgment to an approximately objective evaluation. (I say "approximately objective" because it's hard to do something like this perfectly objectively; the article addresses a number of the limitations involved.) The blind test showed that the violinists' preferences - based purely on sound qualities - after an hour of playing had no correlation to the provenance of the violin. The complaint of the quoted study participant was that this was unfair because she only understood how special the Strad she used after months of playing it. The difference is that she knew exactly what that instrument was, and her knowledge almost certainly informed her feelings about it.

Comment: Re:Article Is Wrong (Score 4, Informative) 469

The older violins are worth several million of dollars and they were loaned on the condition that they could not be tuned.

First, your link refers to an earlier article (also in PNAS) with a smaller sample size. Second, the condition wasn't that they couldn't be tuned, it was that "tonal adjustments" like moving the bridge or replacing the strings were not allowed. I would assume that simply tightening the pegs was permissible.

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234