Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

The SciSchmooze and the Powers That Be

from the desk of David Almandsmith

Welcome aboard, dear reader,
 
Chewbacca, our 2-year-old rescue cat, died this last month of a coronavirus infection – not COVID-19, but Feline Infectious Peritonitis, FIP. The feline coronavirus is called – logically enough – FCoV. Roughly half of all house cats have been infected with FCoV, but less than 5% show symptoms. Once a cat shows symptoms, however, the power of the disease almost always kills with pathologies eerily similar to COVID-19. In view of this, it’s not surprising that cats can become infected with the human SARS-CoV-2 virus without getting sick and then shed the virus with the power to infect others. Two experimental drugs – GC376 & GC442534 – have been developed to cure cats of FIP. Results have been very positive: GC376 reduced mortality in sick cats to 25% and GC442534 reduced mortality to zero. Now, a test tube study has shown that these two drugs are also effective against SARS-CoV-2. Clinical trials of these veterinary drugs to cure COVID-19 have started. Summary: the financial power of cat owners willing to shell out big bucks to save little Mittens from FIP, jump-started research years ago into drugs that may also be powerful against COVID-19. Who’d a thunk?
 
We miss you, Chewbacca.
 
We all (well, almost all) look forward to a safe, powerful vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. A few nights ago, i heard our President brag that once a vaccine is ready, our military is prepared to vaccinate 200,000 people a day. At that rate, everyone in the U.S. could be vaccinated in 1,665 days. Well, not that long since Anti-Vaxxers, denialists, and other conspiracy addicts will pass.
 
¿Does it seem odd to you that juries have the power to decide scientific issues? That’s our legal system. The whole kerfuffle around the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, a.k.a. RoundUp, was put to a jury who decided it indeed causes cancer when that is possibly untrue in the amounts that users are exposed to.
 
Back in the 50’s, many predicted that fusion-power will add electricity to the grid in about 25 years. Today many are predicting that fusion-power will add electricity to the grid in about 35 years. Here are a few ‘irons in the fire:’

  • ITER – International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. It is nearing completion in France at a cost of about $65 billion. It won’t generate electricity; it is intended to solve the engineering challenges to create more energy (in the form of waste heat) than is fed into it – for 30 seconds at a time before it is shut down to prevent serious damage to itself.
  • DEMO – DEMOnstration Power Station. Lessons learned from ITER will direct the engineering of DEMO which hopes to feed 2 to 4 gigawatts to some power grid sometime in the 2050’s.
  • SPARC – This is a collaboration of MIT with a private startup to design and build a much smaller version of the ITER tokamak (1.85m vs. 6.2m major radius) but instead using high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets instead of mere superconducting magnets that ITER uses. By the way, “high temperature” here means from 20° to 70° Kelvin. (Liquid nitrogen boils at 77° Kelvin.) HTS magnets can create a far stronger magnetic field, but so far they’ve only managed such a strong field in a volume of one cubic centimeter. SPARC will need magnets that can create a magnetic field that strong throughout 15 cubic meters. Umm, that’s a lot bigger; like 150 million times bigger.

Rather than sit around waiting 35 years, do the right thing to reduce using fossil fuel power: install solar panels on your roof and a storage battery in your garage. Plug-in hybrids are a great choice for your next car. If you are a 2-car family, make one of them all-electric.
 
Ok, here are my picks for the week (but you should peruse them all – lots of good stuff):

Helen Reddy died last week at 78. Successful with her romantic songs and acting career, she is perhaps best known for her powerful song, “I Am Woman.” Reddy’s lyrics and delivery resonated with the feminist movement of the 1970’s. She also upbraided male chauvinism in “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady,” written by Harriet Schock. Later on she bought into “past life regression” nonsense. Regardless, she is missed.
 
Back to some ‘hard’ science: The accuracy of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity in describing the power of gravity has now been validated to a much higher degree. ¿Remember the image of a black hole that was released in April of last year? Physicists realized that if General Relativity incorrectly predicted the power of gravity slightly in error near to that black hole, the image would be very different. It wasn’t. We are indeed embedded in four dimensional space-time as he concluded, and its curvature accurately accounts for the strength of gravity. Not that i can really grok that.
 
And here is one of my favorite Veritaseum videos. It takes on the topic of the Spinning Tennis Racket Theorem, a.k.a. the Dzhanibekov Effect. Warning, this video has the power to start your head spinning.
 
Join me in wishing President Trump a full and speedy recovery, but please vote to restore science and civility to their rightful places.
 
Stay strong, empathetic, and healthy.
David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member
 
“I wonder if fears ever really go away, or if they just lose their power over us.”
Veronica Anne Roth, Author (1988 – )


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