‘Opposition to Galileo was scientific, not just religious’

by WCE

This article detailing an alternative to Copernicus’ view that planets travel around the sun intrigued me, because correct hypotheses in science are usually the ones we learn and remember. It reminded me of the modern controversy over short term global cooling and warming trends and how to interpret the past 50 years of planetary temperature data, in light of limited historical data. Had you heard of Locher? Does he remind you of any other scientist? Does the controversy remind you of any other scientific controversy?

Opposition to Galileo was scientific, not just religious

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142 thoughts on “‘Opposition to Galileo was scientific, not just religious’

  1. WCE,

    It reminds me of Werner von Braun. During the initial phases of the Apollo program von Braun favored a single stage rocket for the round trip to the moon. They moved ahead with von Braun’s idea until an engineer came to the conclusion that it was just never going to work – certainly not by 1969. The engineer walked von Braun through his work and his theory that a multi -stage rocket was the only viable option. Von Braun look at the numbers and said, “You’re right, I’m wrong. We’re abandoning single stage and going multi stage.”

    In science and in life I’m continually stuck by people’s unwillingness to change their mind when new facts come to light. There is, to my mind, no shame in being wrong. There is however great shame in continuing to be wrong despite the arrival on new facts.

  2. Rhett – I think it is frightening how little people are open to teaching critical thinking skills and exposing people to opposing points of view. I have actually subscribed to more papers and magazines of different viewpoints because I feel like my news is being too filtered. Sometimes I feel like people are operating in entirely different universes and I wonder how that is happening…

  3. Rhett – I think it is frightening how little people are open to teaching critical thinking skills and exposing people to opposing points of view.

    I agree. You don’t really understand an issue until you can make a well reasoned argument for both sides. I think that also helps your cognition to train your brain to think that way. I was reading that one of the many cognitive manifestations of aging is increasingly rigid thinking. I imagine it’s helpful to at least try to keep things flexible.

  4. “You don’t really understand an issue until you can make a well reasoned argument for both sides.”

    Law school for everyone! :-)

  5. Law school for everyone! :-)

    The law school model seems flawed as winning the argument becomes the point rather than the actual issue.

  6. DS – is doing argumentative writing. So for various topics he has to come up with pros and cons. There is an argumentative essay somewhere along the way.

  7. “In science and in life I’m continually stuck by people’s unwillingness to change their mind when new facts come to light. ”

    I’m right you’re wrong. That is all. Our society has vilified being wrong to the point where if our ideas are wrong then we are failures. No one wants to be a failure, so they have to be always right, even if they are wrong.

    Critical thinking and exploring ideas from both sides are key, and they are missing from our education now. We focus so much on memorization, tests, please people, that we forget to truly learn you have to be wrong every so often.

    voin Braun was a truly smart and humble man.

  8. In science and in life I’m continually stuck by people’s unwillingness to change their mind when new facts come to light.

    Me too. And I’m astounded at the lack of critical thinking skills.

  9. On this– the specific topic and the much broader topic– this was a terrific resource (my first foray into the GC brand). When the CD’s were $20/pop late last year, I bought a half-dozen: http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/science-and-religion.html

    For a book in the broader area, I’d recommend Thomas Kuhn’s classic:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions

    And more broadly, on confirmation bias, etc. in politics– but also as it impacts research– check out Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”:
    http://righteousmind.com/

    http://schansblog.blogspot.com/2015/05/haidts-righteous-mind.html

  10. Critical thinking about something from multiple points of view (not everything has only two sides) gets a lot of lip service, but not much true support in our society. I think we often try to push every idea or discussion in to an either/or decision or a right/wrong decision. Yes, some things are binary choices, but many things are not.

  11. “The law school model seems flawed as winning the argument becomes the point rather than the actual issue.”

    Meh, not really. Remember, most lawyers are not litigators. Most of law school is training you on how to see things from the other side, how to look for the holes in your own arguments, etc. And most legal work is trying to look around corners to see what the flaws may be so you can avoid or address them. If I am writing a contract, I need to think of how a phrase might be interpreted, or how it may apply if a weird scenario happens. If I do a memo for a client telling them what a specific regulation requires, I need to have tried as hard as I can to punch holes in my interpretation, and flag those flaws for the client. Even in litigation, my job is to figure out where the other side is going to try to poke holes in my case so I can minimize the impact.

    A ridiculous amount of any kind of lawyering is spent looking at things from the “other” point of view.

  12. I took a European history class that covered this time period and the professor emphasizing that Galileo got himself into trouble because he published in the vernacular (Italian) rather than Latin. If he’d kept it to a scholarly debate, he’d probably have been fine. As WCE’s article mentions, he was a jerk in how he portrayed the opposition and in broadcasting that to a wider audience, brought the authorities down on himself.

    I always thought that was interesting.

  13. Most of law school is training you on how to see things from the other side, how to look for the holes in your own arguments, etc.

    But not so much the rightness or wrongness of the underlying issue?

  14. As a bit of a tangent (but still connected to science, religion, etc.), it was a lawyer (Phillip Johnson) who wrote “Darwin on Trial”, recognizing poor argumentation in the “evolution/Evolution debate”, kick-starting a big part of the contemporary discussion on that topic (well, at least the useful part of that discussion).

  15. @Rhett, the first thing you learn in law school is that there basically IS no “right” or “wrong” on the underlying issue. :-)

  16. A key point in any argument is thinking carefully about your assumptions, and how your assumptions differ from those who disagree with you. My heat transfer professor made us write our assumptions at the top of each of our homework assignments along with the knowns, unknowns, problem statement and solution calculations and explanation. On exams, I got full credit a couple times by stating something as an assumption when I wasn’t sure how to handle the problem without a particular assumption that a better student wouldn’t have had to make.

    One of the things I admire about liberals/progressives is their desire to be inclusive as they form communities. One of the reasons I’m not liberal/progressive is that I don’t think they are very practical about the challenges of forming such communities. I was thinking about this yesterday as I read that 88 people died in the streets of Portland in the past year, in an article about homelessness, shelters, why people won’t go to shelters with cold/a foot of snow on the ground, etc.

    One of the reasons my favorite life activity was (still is?) debate is the challenge of flipping a coin and then persuading a judge (or a judge and a room full of people, in championship rounds) that my argument was more convincing than my opponent’s argument.

  17. @Rhett, the first thing you learn in law school is that there basically IS no “right” or “wrong” on the underlying issue. :-)

    Which is why I think we need more scientists and engineers in elected government and fewer lawyers.

  18. Rhett/Laura, but I’d think that through looking at something from lots of viewpoints, you’d certainly find out what “side” has the strongest logic going for it. How different is that from what Rhett is referring to as being morally right? Btw, Isaac is having a blast in his semantics class. Yesterday they debated a story–he thinks it was written in 1942, so maybe some of you know it, a woman trying to help a fellow with broken glasses steals something because it’s the only way the boat will ferry her across the river…–no one is clearly right, morally. The exercise was to line them up from worst to least bad.

    WCE, I think that desire to be inclusive is what sinks lefties against the right all the time. Whereas the right can and will determine a position for everyone to rally around, and considers compromise to be concession, the left sees inclusion as the goal, so a compromise in which no one gives up what’s most important to them is golden. Put the two together, and one cedes ground in an effort to end things amicably, and the other sees that as proof of their own strength, and that they can/should push harder for more. Rinse and repeat.

  19. Rhett, hellno! When I look at my dad’s black and white view of the world, trained in science in the 1950s, there is no way I’d want that to rule the world!!

  20. “@Rhett, the first thing you learn in law school is that there basically IS no “right” or “wrong” on the underlying issue. :-)”

    So if you’re defending someone accused of a crime, do you want to know if that person committed the crime? Or more generally, do you want to know the truth about what happened?

  21. When I look at my dad’s black and white view of the world

    Was he immune to data? If he was then he wasn’t very sciencey.

  22. Which is why I think we need more scientists and engineers in elected government and fewer lawyers.

    Right. The fundamental problem is that not every issue has multiple sides. Often the data/facts are clearly demonstrated yet people insist on giving time to the other side.

  23. “Which is why I think we need more scientists and engineers in elected government and fewer lawyers.”

    Only if they go to law school first. :-)

    But seriously, which is it? Do you want people who are trained to look objectively at every side of the issue (a/k/a the “critical thinking” skills advocated above)? Or do you want people to advocate for what is “right”? I am sort of confused here about what you are arguing for — you seem to be saying you want more critical thinking skills, but not too much? Or do you want critical thinking, with an underpinning in a strong sense of what is right and wrong? Because that runs you into the exact issue in WCE’s article.

    The problem is that “science” today is as much an establishment as any other — in some cases worse, because they firmly believe that everything they do is fact-based and is therefore “right.” Which leads to poorly-designed studies (as, for ex., people attempt to develop data to prove conventional wisdom or their own pet theory) and poor interpretations of the data that are available. And of course all of the incentives are in favor of continuing down that path (think of all of the “fat is bad/carbs are good” info from the ’80s — you couldn’t even get a study funded to compare low-fat to low-carb diets, because everyone thought the latter was a total crock). I think it would be very, very interesting to put scientists through an “executive MBA”-type program, except for law school, where their final project was basically to take the opposite position on whatever was their life’s work and argue all of the reasons why they are wrong.

    I think WCE nailed it that the key is really the mental flexibility/lack of hubris that allows you to challenge your assumptions. I think you do need the ability (willingness) to see the other side + grounded in an understanding of facts/theory/morals/[controlling principles of whatever area you are discussing] + a willingness to challenge those assumptions/acknowledge you may be wrong in the face of contrary data.

  24. “Which is why I think we need more scientists and engineers in elected government and fewer lawyers.”

    He’s appointed, but here’s Rex Tillerson’s opening statement from yesterday:

    I am an engineer by training. I seek to understand the facts, follow where
    they lead, and apply logic to our international affairs. We must see the
    world for what it is, have clear priorities, and understand that our power
    is considerable, but it is not infinite. We must, where possible, build
    pathways to new partnerships, and strengthen old bonds which have
    frayed.

    Based on his business success, he must have a good EQ, too

  25. “So if you’re defending someone accused of a crime, do you want to know if that person committed the crime? Or more generally, do you want to know the truth about what happened?”

    OK, this is getting more into a special area of legal work that isn’t pertinent to the particular issue here, but my understanding is that “real” criminal defense lawyers do not want to know what happened, because their job is to make the prosecution prove its case, and if they know the guy is guilty, that limits the kind of testimony they can put on/arguments they can make. OTOH, when I am doing defense work (civil or criminal), I absolutely want to know what happened as best as I can figure it out, because my issues are typically much more legally/factually complex, so I need to know (a) if there is a violation at all, (b) if so, what they need to do correct it, and (c) what arguments I have to mitigate the penalty.

    Remember, lawyers play a specific, limited role in our legal system: we are NOT the “truth-finders” — that is the judge or jury. The whole theory underlying our legal system is that each lawyer’s primary obligation is to her client (that is, to the truth *as the client sees it*), based on the belief that the best way to help the judge/jury figure out what the “real” truth is is to let two strong advocates duke it out. You can’t lie, cheat, or steal, but you sure don’t have to help the other side make its own case.

    Which, again, is rather different than scientific analysis, which we are discussing here. Scientists are supposed to be dedicated to that “truth” itself — they are theoretically the truth-finders, not the hired advocates. Apples and oranges.

  26. CoC, that hearing is a great example of using “we need more data” to (try to) obscure the obvious.

  27. WCE – Thanks for your two intellectual posts this week. Biblical history has always been a interest of mine and, of course, the history of early science was my academic field before I decided to leave that professional path. I wrote a paper on Tycho Brahe and had to write programs on punchcards in Fortran and sign up for my turn to run them to show how his geocentric epicycle model explained the movement of the planets as well if not better than Copernicus’ model.

    This fellow, who studied astrophysics at UVA (not sure that he has a PhD or whether it is from UVA – I couldn’t find a CV for him) is a lifelong teacher/professor at a community college in Kentucky. His researches in Galileo and his Catholic astronomer opponents are a labor of love/avocation, but at a high enough level to get his book published by Notre Dame Press with a blurb from one of my old Ivy profs (one of the few not dead by now). It is well known that even today old scientific ideas die hard, and take a generation or two to disappear in the face of new ideas. That was a main point of the book Eric S referred to above, T Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

    Galileo’s observations, even if some of them were flawed, and Kepler’s explanation of planetary orbits as elliptical, provided the building blocks for the full scientific acceptance of heliocentrism by new generations of scientists in the latter part of the 17th century. Kepler studied under Brahe, but he refused to convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism so his lost his post and moved outside the scientific establishment of his time. Since heliocentrism was declared heretical by the church, Catholic scientists and their patrons could not pursue that line of thinking. Galileo was definitely arrogant and defied the Church. Whether that was noble or foolish is a matter of opinion.

    It is also certainly not fair to paint as religious stooges all of the Catholic scientists who raised legitimate questions about Galileo’s observations or theories and advanced their own versions of the older theories. This book sets this small bit of the record straight.

  28. Rhett, your 1:27 comment makes it look like you think data tells truth!

    If the rocket weighs X and the fuel has an energy content of Y and the engine has efficiency of Z and the escape velocity of Earth is 11.3km/s. Plug the data in and its going to tell you if the rocket is capable of escaping the Earth’s gravity or it’s not.

  29. “CoC, that hearing is a great example of using “we need more data” to (try to) obscure the obvious.”

    Interesting … I didn’t see the whole thing. How did it do that?

    And. Rhett, why so frightened of little people? jk!!!

    “I think it is frightening how little people are open to teaching critical thinking skills and exposing people to opposing points of view.”

  30. But seriously, which is it?

    When the facts change, I want people to feel free to change their mind. I’m also not a fan of ideology.

    Sort of like AGW. Some opponents presumably have honest issue with the data and how it’s interpreted. Which is fine. But, other start with the assumption that if AGW is true the government would have to do something about it and because they don’t want the government to have to do anything, AGW can’t be true.

  31. And. Rhett, why so frightened of little people? jk!!

    That was Mia’s comment. And good for you for using the politically correct term.

  32. With something like AGW, it could be totally false, and it could be true. But within the true column, there’s a wide range of degree of truth, and it’s almost absurd to believe that it could be 100% true. But if it’s the key question is to what degree is human activity a contributor. What’s the correct coefficient such that X tons of emitted CO2 equals Y degrees Centigrade per century?

    Where we skeptics get annoyed is the belief that it can only be a binary issue — if you believe that there’s any validity to AGW, then the only acceptable solution is massive, worldwide government action with far higher energy costs for the enlightened world. Anything less, and you’re an anti-Science “Denier,” which is a not-so-subtle and unapologetic allusion to the truly despicable Holocaust deniers. If you want to make me against government action on climate change, that’s a sure way to do it.

  33. “The law school model seems flawed as winning the argument becomes the point rather than the actual issue.”

    That seems to me to be a core flaw with our criminal justice system, the emphasis on winning the case over determining the truth.

    “we are NOT the “truth-finders” — that is the judge or jury.”

    I don’t see how they are truth-finders. All they can do is interpret and filter what’s presented to them. TV would suggest the CSI guys are the truth-finders, and I think in practice you often won’t find the truth without them.

  34. “Isaac is having a blast in his semantics class.”

    He’s lucky to have that.

    I wish my kids had specific education in semantics and logic.

  35. LfB, is the prosecuting attorney supposed to care whether the defendant is guilty? I don’t think I could stomach being a prosecuting attorney if my professional obligations required me to prosecute innocent people. The legal system is sufficiently threatening and expensive that only people with probable cause against them should have to interact with it.

    Are there any differences under a “loser pays” system?

  36. What bugs me the most about AGW is those who insist on doing nothing.

    I think it’s great that there is not unquestioning acceptance of AGW, and continuing study of it. But I think we have enough to believe that it is a very plausible theory, and given the possible range of consequences, it would be prudent to take action to mitigate against it, keeping in mind that it’s still a theory, not a proven fact.

    Those who just deny it and bury their heads in the sand are, IMO, imprudent.

  37. “Only if they go to law school first. :-)”

    Is there a law school anywhere that will accept someone without a bachelor’s degree?

  38. Finn, given that carbon has been being released in significant quantities since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the question is, “What might mitigation mean?”

    Does it mean we attempt to develop technologies to sequester significant quantities of carbon? Does it mean we attempt widespread reforestation? Does it mean we attempt to control carbon emissions at the national level? Does it mean we attempt to control carbon emissions at a global level? If we need to maintain/decrease carbon emissions at the global level, how likely are we to convince the ~2+ billion people in India and China that they shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of high carbon emission (air conditioning, for example) that the rest of us enjoy?

    I think our inability to significantly change carbon emissions globally means our choices are to sequester (if that’s even possible) or to adapt to whatever the changes are. And if the changes are caused more by, say, solar phenomena than by humans, or if the fact that air holds water vapor at temperatures above -30 C in a positive feedback cycle such that reducing emissions has no significant effect on global temperatures, we will be forced to adapt to whatever the changes are.

  39. the only acceptable solution is massive, worldwide government action with far higher energy costs for the enlightened world

    That’s a straw man argument. Many are in favor of nuclear technology up to and including the Union of Concerned Scientists. France for example is almost all nuclear and utilities are only 8% higher in than in the US. Does your “only acceptable solution” claim perhaps come from an overexposure to those who are ideologically opposed to the existence of AGW.

  40. WCE, as a start, I think it would mean engaging with other countries that are trying to reduce the human sources of carbon emissions.

    Beyond that, you bring up some possible actions. Things like increasing our shift to non-carbon emitting energy sources, increased efficiency in our energy-consuming devices, and engaging in international talks will all put us in a better position to convince people in India and China that they should take actions as well.

    I’ll also argue that there are economic, and thus social benefits, to many of these mitigating actions, especially in light of how seriously other countries take AGW. Not taking the lead means other countries (e.g., China) are more easily able to take the lead, and profit from selling mitigating technologies and products to other countries.

  41. “if you believe that there’s any validity to AGW, then the only acceptable solution is massive, worldwide government action with far higher energy costs for the enlightened world. ”

    No, there’s a lot of incremental changes that can be made to mitigate the effects of AGW and get us partway to a “solution.”

    E.g, the ever-increasing efficiencies of things like lighting, refrigeration, and AC will all mitigate AGW. Mitigating AGW is a potential benefit of self-driving cars. Increasing capture of solar energy, e.g., for water heating, electricity, and AC, will also mitigate AGW without necessarily raising energy costs.

  42. “Does your “only acceptable solution” claim perhaps come from an overexposure to those who are ideologically opposed to the existence of AGW.”

    No, it’s more from claims from the President that “the debate is over. the science is settled!”

  43. Rhett, and here I thought you were talking about the hard stuff. That’s a simple calculation. By the time you get to it, most of the tough decisions have already been made.

  44. CofC,

    Some don’t like nuclear but many love nuclear. But Milo didn’t say that he said “the only acceptable solution is massive, worldwide government action with far higher energy costs for the enlightened world” which is simply not an accurate statement.

  45. most of the tough decisions have already been made.

    That decision came at the beginning of the project not the end. Almost all of the tough engineering challenges came later.

  46. On global warming and energy, I’ve seen several articles claiming that Trump’s attempt to shore up the coal industry won’t work, because “alternative” types of energy are becoming less expensive. That argument reminds me of the recent discussion here on electronics taking on tasks people currently do.

  47. “Do you want people who are trained to look objectively at every side of the issue (a/k/a the “critical thinking” skills advocated above)? Or do you want people to advocate for what is “right”? I am sort of confused here about what you are arguing for — you seem to be saying you want more critical thinking skills, but not too much? Or do you want critical thinking, with an underpinning in a strong sense of what is right and wrong?”

    I think we want people with both critical thinking skills and a good understanding of science and technology.

    Critical thinking skills are of limited use when there is insufficient understanding of the matter at hand.

  48. Rhett, are we on the same page? Choices like how are funds and materials used, how many hours of paid employment should go to this, what waste will it produce and what to do with it, what benefit is likely to come of it, who that benefit will go to. Stuff that I mentioned a while ago engineers are trained to brush off, and several people here disagreed, although most of their examples were of a very personal, small scale nature.

  49. “the only acceptable solution is massive, worldwide government action with far higher energy costs for the enlightened world”

    Rhett – That’s what carbon taxes and international treaties are.

    CoC – That’s a good column on nuclear. Nuclear had been chugging along for a while, but it’s getting severely hurt right now by low natural gas prices. Smaller plants, particularly in unregulated energy markets, have been shutting down because they’re just not profitable.

    Cuomo’s push for massive subsidies (paid for by NY ratepayers) to some of the upstate plants was certainly remarkable and admirable, but then I read that the utility that operates the one closer to NYC is going to shut theirs down, again, it’s just not profitable at these gas prices.

    So the moderates do like nuclear, at least in theory, but with the exception of Cuomo, have not done much of anything to promote it. Others still actively fight it, like Feinstein.

  50. “Trump’s attempt to shore up the coal industry won’t work, because “alternative” types of energy are becoming less expensive.”

    There’s truth to that, as long as by “alternative types of energy,” you mean burning natural gas. But while natural gas transmitted by pipeline is pretty cheap, it gets a lot more expensive when you ship it overseas, because it has to be liquefied first. Coal is still a serious export, and I think Trump, with his “pen and his phone,” as Obama was fond of saying, can tweak some things and make exporting coal a little more attractive.

  51. And I should have said “fossil fuels” rather than coal, because it isn’t just coal that’s being eclipsed.

  52. At some point, there will be a major advance in battery/power storage technology, and then suddenly things like solar will be much more important.

  53. I’m in favor of nuclear power, but not in my back yard. We should definitely build more nuclear plants and then put them waaaay over there. No, further out. Yeah.

  54. Saac – your 334 article is misleading.

    1) When they say “capacity” they mean potential capacity. Solar/wind only have output when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. A better metric would be actual generation output, but that’s less exciting because the actual output of solar/wind tends to be well under half its capacity.

    2) There are other uses for coal besides electrical generation.

  55. As for your second article, I stopped at the first paragraph:

    “Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity. ”

    Give me a fu(king break. *new* electricity.

  56. Give me a fu(king break. *new* electricity.

    What’s your problem with that statement? Presumably, it has to do with the lack of regulation and opposition to PV vs. building a new natural gas plant.

  57. Rhett – Because they’re still using greatly misleading accounting, a big part of which is what I explained in the statement about potential capacity vs. actual output.

    You have to read that article all the way to the last paragraph to find that they completely reverse their thesis:

    “Still, the buildup of wind and solar takes time, and fossil fuels remain the cheapest option for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.”

  58. “At some point, there will be a major advance in battery/power storage technology”

    Maybe. Maybe not. At some point we were all going to be riding monorails, and Disney went all out with theirs to lead the revolution. That was nearly 50 years ago. And theirs breaks down constantly, and they tell people to get off and wait for the ferry.

  59. “At some point, there will be a major advance in battery/power storage technology, and then suddenly things like solar will be much more important.”

    One energy storage technology extensively deployed locally is water heater tanks. Solar water heaters, which capture solar energy and store it in the form of hot water, are widespread, and mandated by code for new houses.

    Besides energy storage, demand shifting can also make things like solar more important.

    There was an article in the local paper about the first guy to install PV panels under a new PUC program that allows PV systems to be connected to the grid, but not feed energy into the grid, i.e., energy can be pulled from the grid. He has a Tesla battery bank, but he’s also shifting as much consumption as he can to daylight hours. A couple of things he mentioned were running the washing machine and dishwasher.

    It seems to me that it would be technically very easy to facilitate that, by incorporating timers into washing machines and dishwashers. On a recent trip to Asia, my hotel room had a washer/dryer with a timer.

    Locally, a big energy user during the peak demand period in the early evening is AC. Thermal storage technology (e.g., ice) exists that can shift the electricity consumption to the peak PV generation period.

  60. Let’s take a look at science for a minute. At one point in time, the scientists of the day “determined” the world was flat. They had data (granted it was limited) to support this FACT. They were not happy with those upstarts who wanted to challenge this FACT with some hypothesis that the world was round. The upstarts collected more data and convinced most people that the world was not flat.

    Bill Nye said something I liked in his debate with Ken Ham, which was (I paraphrase) that he believes something to be true based on the CURRENT scientific evidence, but he is open to considering addtional scientific evidence. The underlying point is that Nye is encouraging people to continue to think about and challenge what we think of today as FACT or even if we still think it is theory to continue to look at it from different points of view.

  61. Milo,

    Peak demand for electricity is always on a hot and sunny summer day when an area’s AC units are running full tilt. With new PV technology, if Con Edison needs more peak capacity the cheapest option is now PV. That we need nuclear or gas for the base load remains true but adding new peak capacity is going to involve more PV.

  62. At some point we were all going to be riding monorails, and Disney went all out with theirs to lead the revolution. That was nearly 50 years ago. And theirs breaks down constantly, and they tell people to get off and wait for the ferry.

    Geeze, are the neighborhood kids traipsing all over your lawn again?

  63. Finn – FTR, my favorite battery is still a gigantic recreational lake to which you pump water uphill during periods of excess production, and drop it through a turbine during increased load demand.

    And it’s much more fun:

  64. “Peak demand for electricity is always on a hot and sunny summer day”

    That’s incorrect. It’s actually about 5am on a January morning.

  65. I think energy storage solutions will come. I heard a presentation from a graduate student who is studying ways to make everyday things collect and store solar energy. For example, using curtains that face the sunny side of the house and even paint. Collecting the energy is much easier that storing it, but they are working on a number of ideas to improve and shrink the size of the battery to store the energy. Must say a lot of the presentation was more technical than what I followed, but still interesting

  66. “Geeze, are the neighborhood kids traipsing all over your lawn again?”

    It’s tiring to hear the same hopeful and misleading myths over and over again.

  67. “That we need nuclear or gas for the base load remains true but adding new peak capacity is going to involve more PV.”

    The thing is, as I pointed out with the January morning problem, it’s not that you need nuclear/gas/thermal generation JUST for the base load. You need it to be able to cover 100% of the potential demand. Period. So any PV, while nice, is purely an added expense*.

    *In most regions of the country. Finn can talk about solar water heaters for those in HI if he likes.

  68. So any PV, while nice, is purely an added expense*.

    The fuel cost is 0 so you can throttle back the natural gas, coal and nuclear fuel consumption. So, it’s by no means “purely” an added expense. I would add to HI, FL, CA, AZ, NM, TX*.

    * Which has so much wind at times the majority of its power is wind power not to mention all the sun.

  69. “I assume it’s the heat pumps.”

    Yes. I’m looking for national totals, but can’t find anything right now. Everyone focuses on residential, but commercial/industry is a big part of it, too. We’d have to think about how that factors in and varies by region.

  70. I’ve been reading a lot about battery technology/storage for a few years now and two challenges are the amount of Li in the world (for electrochemistry in the battery) and the amount of Pt in the world (to act as a catalyst). I just read about the potential of doped carbon, which has a lot of the same dielectric properties as doped silicon,

    Given the amount of research that has taken place in the last couple decades, I’m not holding my breath that major storage advances will come in my lifetime.

    I attend small group with people from the local nuclear startup (small scale nuclear just submitted its application to the NRC for ~4 years of review) and a local startup that has a photovoltaic cell coating that can improve the efficiency of existing photovoltaic setups by ~5%. One of the challenges they are facing is that applying the efficient coating would void the manufacturer warranty on the photovoltaic cells, and one of their potential triumphs is a letter from the/some leading photovoltaic suppliers that applying the efficient coating would NOT void the manufacturer warranty.

  71. “The fuel cost is 0”

    Yes, but the fixed cost is high.

    “so you can throttle back the natural gas, coal and nuclear fuel consumption.”

    Which also raises the per-megawatt cost of those forms of generation, since their fixed costs have to be spread over a smaller share of the pie. This is another example where the accounting gets more complex.

  72. “Peak demand for electricity is always on a hot and sunny summer day when an area’s AC units are running full tilt. ”

    Around here, peak demand is in the early evening. That’s been brought up many times in the discussions of how to integrate increasing amounts of PV into the local grid.

    Apparently it’s not just here: http://www.hawaiienergypolicy.hawaii.edu/outreach-communication/hawaii-clean-energy-day/2014/_media/presi/Jim-Lazar.pdf shows a similar curve for CA. Ignore the fact that it’s called a duck curve, and the photos are of geese.

  73. “I’m not holding my breath that major storage advances will come in my lifetime.”

    Due in part to the factors you mentioned, I don’t think utility-scale battery banks will be a major factor soon. But I am hopeful that new battery chemistries using more plentiful materials will be developed.

    I think that in the next 10 to 20 years, it’s more likely that any utility-scale energy storage will use old technology, e.g., Milo’s example of pumping water, ice for AC, and heat storage to capture solar energy during the day and use it to run generators at night.

    As mentioned above, I also think a lot of demand can be shifted to times of peak generation.

    “photovoltaic cell coating that can improve the efficiency of existing photovoltaic setups by ~5%”

    Anti-reflective coating? Perhaps by better refractive index matching?

  74. Finn, yup.
    The cost to design a small scale nuclear reactor and have it approved by the NRC will be ~$1 billion over ~15-20 years.

    This ties into my ongoing thoughts about leveraging technology (pharmaceuticals, medical devices, nuclear power and nuclear waste) globally rather than having approvals be national.

  75. Rhett – don’t confuse my animated and excited responses with actual anger, because it’s not. But I do think that the misleading reporting is ultimately harmful because it makes politicians think that these perfect solutions are right around the corner. It’s not their fault; they have to be experts on too many things.

    That’s why we need lobbyists–to tell them what they believe and how to vote. Or else.

  76. Milo, do you not understand that “becoming” doesn’t mean it already is? My son is not as tall as me, but he’s grown a heck of a lot more than i have in the past year, around 6″. To say he’s is gaining on me, becoming taller, doesn’t mean he’s there, even though he will be eventually. Solar and wind are gaining on coal, aren’t consistently cheaper, but are advancing a heck of a lot faster than “clean” (would be funny, if it weren’t so awful) coal is. You are reading reports of changes taking place now as if they were in the past tense, the change a fait accompli. Look at that closing paragraph again. It doesn’t reverse the whole thing, just says DS is growing but still not quite taller than mama–yet.

  77. BTW, the link in my 4:23 has a couple slides (20 and 21) indicating that thermal energy storage (e.g., hot water, ice) is the cheapest and most efficient means of energy storage.

  78. “Yes. I’m looking for national totals, “.

    National figs might show an international trend, but as indicated, the US is not the leader in this.

  79. At this point, I think from the big picture it makes more sense to develop batteries for electric cars than for utility-scale energy storage, although I still think widespread adoption of electric cars could lead to the use of the batteries in those cars collectively to smooth out demand/supply mismatches at a utility scale.

  80. Finn, South Korea has done a lot of research in that. Because the country is so small, I suspect it’s one of the first places where electric cars will be widely adopted.

  81. Just about all the cars in Korea are either Hyundai or Kia, which I’m guessing would make wide adoption of electric cars there a lot faster than here, once one of them comes up with a viable product.

  82. WCE, do you know if the folks at the local startup trying to increase PV efficiency have looked into reducing the series resistance by cooling?

  83. I’m wondering why CA is having such an issue with the duck curve (large ramp in grid demand from afternoon to evening, as PV peters out and people go home an turn on a bunch of stuff). Couldn’t they address that in part by exporting energy east? I would think the duck curve would be worse in the eastern US.

    Perhaps it’s just because CA has been more enthusiastic about installing PV.

  84. Saac – re: the second article, we’re both right and wrong about it in varied ways. You presented it (with little other context) as evidence that renewables are rapidly becoming cheaper in cost at a faster rate than fossil fuels. I refuted the relevance of that to the discussion at hand.

    We’re both correct, and both wrong, because the article is primarily focused only on the relative prices between PV and wind.

    Something might be decreasing at a faster rate, but you can’t assume that will continue forever. And as I said, there are complexities in the overall cost #s that the simplified analyses overlook.

  85. As I’m getting my 4 yo out of the tub, I can’t help but point out that my child “is becoming” taller than the oak tree in our backyard. I mean, not *yet*, of course, but if you compare their growth rates over the past year…

  86. Finn, it’s a VERY small start up with its only focus being putting ARC onto existing photovoltaic installations… I think no full time employees, just some guys with passion about energy efficiency.

  87. WCE, the prosecutor has an ethical obligation to prosecute only those he or she believes is guilty. In the federal system, the prosecutor must present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury before asking the grand jury whether it will return an indictment, and must share all exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession with defense counsel before the trial. Criminal charges are not brought or are dropped when significant exculpatory evidence or testimony comes to a prosecutor’s attention.

    I believe all states have similar provisions in place.

    As a criminal defense lawyer, no matter what you think of your client’s version of events, you have to (a) anticipate and understand the implications of the evidence the government will present at trial, (b) understand your client’s version of the facts and find any holes in that story before trial, and (c) unearth and aggressively present every legal and factual argument you can for them – which means you have a fair idea of what happened and what the client’s role was. But you are responsible for being their advocate, which can be very difficult if you have a client who did something dreadful.

    The other thing to realize is that very, very few cases are tried and the cases that are tried are the most serious and ambiguous (or, like Dylann Roof, involve an insane defendant) – well over 95% of people charged plead guilty. The vast bulk of defense work is working with the client and prosecutor to get them a plea deal with a reasonable sentence, because most charges don’t involve a mystery and a surprising (to me) number of offenders are caught red-handed. Books and TV are much more fun than real life :)

  88. BTW, the link in my 4:23 has a couple slides (20 and 21) indicating that thermal energy storage (e.g., hot water, ice) is the cheapest and most efficient means of energy storage.

    But how do you convert the heat into electricity that you can use? It doesn’t matter how cheap it is to store energy if it’s very expensive or basically impossible to convert the energy to the form you can use.

  89. well over 95% of people charged plead guilty.

    Of course quite a few of those people are innocent and are encouraged to plead guilty because they don’t have adequate representation.

  90. “But how do you convert the heat into electricity that you can use?”

    Well, in some cases what you need isn’t really electricity. E.g., when you take a shower, you want hot water, not electricity.

    The slides indicate about 12% of peak period electricity going to water heating and 32% going to cooling. While it’s not clear if that means AC, or perhaps AC plus refrigeration, it does seem like thermal storage can directly, without need for an intermediate step to convert to electrical energy, help reduce the peak electricity demand quite a bit.

    There are thermoelectric generators, but I don’t think they’re well suited for anything large.

    A more likely way to convert stored heat to electricity is in via steam turbine. E.g., if you start with hot water, you need to add less energy to it to produce a given amount of electricity than had you started with colder water.

  91. Finn, do you think steam heat will ever become feasible in dense urban areas? I remember both of my old industrial sites and my university had their own small power plants, from back in the day. The Michigan one could run on wood forest byproducts.

  92. The 12% and 32% peak load numbers are for residential use, but I’ve read elsewhere that residential use drives peak load.

  93. WCE, do you mean intracity infrastructure to pipe steam throughout cities?

    I don’t know. I would think the first issue would be whether a means exists to measure use. Perhaps something does exist, analogous to what would need to be used for seawater AC.

    I suppose it could be safer than distributing gas, in addition to providing a way to directly use stored heat energy.

    What would be the source of the energy that would be stored as heat?

  94. I’m thinking a downside of distributed steam heat would be transmission losses, which I’m guessing would tend to be higher than for gas.

    Depending on the source of the heat, it might make more sense to use that heat to generate electricity.

  95. Finn, that’s kind of what I was thinking, especially if the steam was “waste heat”. It’s not something I’ve thought much about, but both Mr WCE and my university’s had some sidewalks kept free of ice by steam waste, I think, and I think that was a deliberate design decision.

    And because you share interest in this topic, the article describing the local NRC application.
    http://m.gazettetimes.com/news/local/nuscale-files-nrc-application/article_d983facb-24e9-58eb-9c7d-04e009fa2fba.html

  96. WCE, de-icing of public sidewalks would be a logical use of otherwise wasted heat in dense areas. It would encourage more walking, rather than driving, and would not require metering of individual users.

    But from the AGW perspective, despite encouraging more walking, it wouldn’t have as much impact as directly displacing the consumption of fossil fuels, e.g., burning gas for heat. Unless, of course, it does directly replace fossil fuel consumption to de-ice the sidewalks.

  97. Update on the language arts situation: we were scheduled to observe the class tomorrow morning. The principal emailed us at 8 pm saying they feel it will be better if they record a class and then watch it with us because “this will allow us to answer whatever questions you have as you watch as well as to explain why specific tools and strategies are being used. The goal of this observation was to help to see the new curriculum in action, without a background in education it may be difficult to this and we want you to be able to discuss it with us.”

    She also reiterated that we could still homeschool her if we want but there is absolutely no place for her to go during the class so we would have to pick her up and bring her back each day. And she also said that since she is a former language arts teacher, she would be happy to provide supplemental work for DD, but she would still have to do the regular classwork.

    Needless to say, DW is off the wall livid. I replied back that we were very disappointed that we couldn’t observe the class after we rearranged our work schedules, and we will get back to them later.

    I told DW that they’ve made their position clear and we lost, but she doesn’t want to accept that. I think they realized they should have just said up front that homeschooling for one class isn’t an option and been done with it, but now they don’t want to go back on that, so they are making it as difficult as possible.

  98. DD — I agree with your conclusion. The school is being weaselly and I’d be livid too. I’m sorry this happened.

  99. Finn – are you aware of any applications where excess power is preheating boiler water (7:47 comment)? I haven’t heard of that, and since steam power plants are cyclical, and already designed to preheat the water post-condenser with exhausted steam pre-condenser, I was wondering where it fit in to the process.

  100. DD,
    You are probably right, but would there be a benefit to sitting through the video with the “experts,” and forcing them to explain to you, in the simplest possible language because you are NOT experts, every questionable aspect of this class?

  101. WCE, de-icing of public sidewalks would be a logical use of otherwise wasted heat in dense areas. It would encourage more walking, rather than driving, and would not require metering of individual users.

    I am hugely in favor of this idea. All winter, about one out of every four homeowners refuses to shovel, and so you can walk safely for half a block, then tiptoe over the icy patch, then walk safely again, then tiptoe, etc. I hates it.

  102. RMS,

    That article makes me think the totebag understanding of the world is a little off. Denver Dad recently mentioned with incredulity that someone had gotten into college with a 2.6 GPA. I don’t find that too surprising for a school with an 80% acceptance rate. The same goes for your article – how can these mediocre kids find jobs? Well, the totebag definition of mediocre and the actual definition might be somewhat different.

  103. IIRC I don’t think the getting in was surprising, it was the scholarship award that had DD surprised. But yeah, as our guidance counselor used to say, there’s a college for everyone.

  104. Rhett, my incredulity was because 1. I thought they were much more competitive schools, especially Alabama, and 2. that they offer academic scholarships to someone with a 2.6, as CoC said. I know anyone who wants to go to college can get in somewhere, I just though that “big name” schools were more competitive.

    I agree that my perception of college admissions has probably become totally skewed from hanging out here ;)

  105. The college “industry” thrives on credential inflation. An overall reset in qualification paths, using government supported local 2 year post secondary institutions (not necessarily “colleges”) would enable many people, including those exiting the military, to obtain employment skills. The article may claim that today a two year program will qualify a person for various medical technical jobs, but the reality in large markets is that they hire college grads who have taken targeted course work in addition to a youthful or later obtained ticket punching degree. University of Phoenix and the nominally non profit online diploma sources may not cut the totebag mustard for actual higher education, but they have provided a path for a motivated individual to obtain that vital, but unnecessary credential.

  106. You are probably right, but would there be a benefit to sitting through the video with the “experts,” and forcing them to explain to you, in the simplest possible language because you are NOT experts, every questionable aspect of this class?

    Scarlett, that’s a nice idea. The thing is we really like the assistant principal (he was DD’s 4th grade teacher so we’ve known him for years and he’s a really nice guy) and I don’t want to waste his time. The principal is actually the acting principal, they are still in the process of hiring a new one, although I think she is a finalist, and we’re not big fans of her so I’d be okay wasting her time.

    We’re also questioning how fair of a representation the filmed class would be because the teacher will now it’s being recorded so she’ll be on her best behavior.

    DD did say yesterday they had a sub and she learned more about “Unbroken” in 5 minutes from him than she has in two months of reading it with the teacher.

  107. “All winter, about one out of every four homeowners refuses to shovel, and so you can walk safely for half a block, then tiptoe over the icy patch, then walk safely again, then tiptoe, etc. I hates it.”

    YES! Supposedly, you can be fined by the city, but it doesn’t have much teeth. There is a non-profit that owns a large plot of land near me that they are planning to develop at a later date when they raise enough $$, and they do not do ANYTHING. It makes me irate – it is on our way to the park, and it’s been years now. They also do not mow the lawn regularly or pick up litter. I have been feuding with them for years.

  108. From what I can tell, parents are VERY happy if kids get into Chapel Hill or NC State (Math/Sci). The colleges are decent enough, with in state tuition, not far from home and it is likely that the kids will end up working for local companies.
    Yesterday DD was asking about Norte Dame. On the topic of college, she mentioned that her classmate’s mother had an offer to teach at Harvard and she was asking me if that was a good job or not. Both my kids throw out names of colleges that are out of state.

  109. Supposedly, you can be fined by the city, but it doesn’t have much teeth.

    Can’t you call the city and have them come out and fine them? That’s the way it works here. That said, no one seems to not shovel their sidewalk around here.

  110. “Can’t you call the city and have them come out and fine them? That’s the way it works here. That said, no one seems to not shovel their sidewalk around here.”

    We do, and they do. But it’s not enough of a deterrent to get people to actually shovel. The sad part too is that a lot of people have to shovel an area that is 25 feet wide (standard lot width). The non-profit lot is much bigger, on a corner, and as I said – adjacent to a popular park that even gets a lot of winter foot traffic because of the walking/running path.

  111. “From what I can tell, parents are VERY happy if kids get into Chapel Hill or NC State (Math/Sci). The colleges are decent enough, with in state tuition, not far from home and it is likely that the kids will end up working for local companies.”

    I would be thrilled to send DS to Flagship U! Most people here are also proud/happy if their kid goes to Flagship U. It’s Top 50 though & well known for some programs (Accounting, Comp Sci, Engineering). But their acceptance rate is ~50%. (I had to google that.) And it’s only 3 hours away & is the alma mater of his father & a bunch of his aunts/uncles.

  112. Ivy – let me guess that the neighbors (exluding nonprofit) won’t shovel the sidewalks, but did shovel out the most perfect parking spot and claimed it with lawn furniture.

  113. DD, I’m sorry about your daughter’s situation. Would it help to discuss specifically what the substitute did well that the teacher doesn’t/didn’t do typically, as well as talk about what the teacher does in the video? Sometimes, if you go through this and document (say, by a letter to the school board or superintendent, whether said party pays attention to the letter or not), you can influence the situation for later kids. I haven’t found that schools have the bandwidth to care about kids for whom classes are a poor fit. Sometimes having/being a poorly behaved child helps, because it’s easier to for the teacher to let you read a book than deal with your incessant nitpicking/stupid questions. Not sure you want to teach your daughter that. :)

  114. Ivy, I went to your flagship state U.

    WCE, DD said the difference was that the sub has actually read the book. The regular teacher is reading it along with them.

  115. The regular teacher is reading it along with them.

    Oh my God! That’s ridiculous.

  116. Yeah, what RMS said.

    I would reluctantly accept the offer (expressing your reluctance/disappointment) and then quiz your DD about whether taping day was a “normal” day. But it sounds like they have pretty much given you a choice of suck it up and finish out the year (and then trash them on every blog, bulletin board, review, etc.), or take her out and homeschool for everything. I guess you could also write a complaint letter to whomever is in charge — having a teacher who hasn’t even bothered to read ahead and prepare is completely unacceptable. Does the district have any testing that tracks student progress? I’d think that could likely clearly illustrate the total ineffectiveness of this particular class (again, assuming that does any good longer-term). Really sorry it isn’t working out better. But at least she has you guys, and that means she will make it through just fine in the end.

  117. LfB, it’s a charter school, so it’s not under the purview of the DPS school board. There is an executive director who is over the (acting) principal and they copied her in on the email last night. Honestly, it doesn’t bother me that much – I chalk it up that occasionally you get a clunker of a teacher and you deal with it for a year, but DW is so upset about it, and as was mentioned in one of my previous posts about it, I have to have her back.

    As for testing, they do iReady, and she actually brought her results home yesterday. I just looked at them quickly but I do think they showed a decline in her English/LA scores.

    The root of the problem is the previous principal sucked and she was finally fired over the summer, but because of her, four really good teachers left at the end of last year.

  118. DD, it does sound like a frustrating situation and I can understand why your wife is upset. I’m not going to suggest that the teacher is ok. But, please don’t worry too much about the effect of a year of an ineffective teacher. And if she’s not really learning anything about this book, well, the point of English class especially as taught today isn’t for her to learn about a particular book. It’s more about how to read critically in general, and write persuasively, and generally making sure that everyone is doing at least some reading and writing during the school year. If your daughter reads on her own, she’s already ahead of the game. And these aren’t skills where one years class absolutely depends on having learned last year’s material — the cumulative effect over the years is more of a practice and polishing then a “you have to learn A so you can understand B so you can understand C so you can go on to D.”

    So, if your best efforts still result in her spending the spring semester with a crappy teacher, just sigh. And brush it off. (And if it’s still bugging you, watch a little of this list together https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8dPuuaLjXtOeEc9ME62zTfqc0h6Pe8vb or have a family poetry-reading night so you feel like you’ve done something to supplement.)

  119. HM, I know and in ok with her having one year with a bad teacher. But DW is so incredibly furious about it. I’ve never seen her this worked up about anything.

  120. Yeah, DD, I agree, you totally need to have your wife’s back on this. You’re doing the right thing. Is there a board that governs/approves/oversees charters? Those are the folks to whom I was thinking you can complain.

    But realistically, I think all you can do right now is follow your wife’s lead. Your instincts are right on.

  121. DD, classic charter school/private school issue.
    I’d do the video thing. When I sat in on part of my kid’s school day, I *wished* for a chance to stand up and tell the teacher just how wrong she was, and I *wished* I could get hte school’s director to believe that’s what happened. If it’s worth your time to go, why wouldn’t it be worth the principal’s time? I’m not sure what you mean by “interim”. That sounds to me like she will be there for the rest of the time your kid is in the school, and could make a change that will make things better for other kids in the future.
    And they’re offering to let your daughter do additional work while sitting in the boring class? Woohoo!!! That’s a far better offer than I’ve ever been able to get out of any school.

  122. I’m not sure what you mean by “interim”

    They fired the previous principal last summer and have not hired a new one yet. She is filling the role while they complete the hiring process.

    And they’re offering to let your daughter do additional work while sitting in the boring class? Woohoo!!! That’s a far better offer than I’ve ever been able to get out of any school.

    No, they are saying she would have to stay in the class and do all of the assigned work, and they will give her additional work on the side to do on her own time. I don’t wee what’s “Woohoo!!!” about that. If they were willing to give her alternative work to the pointless work they are doing in class, that would be something worth discussing.

  123. DD, yeah, I misunderstood about the extra. Ugh If you can find it, PTM wrote a big ole post on the value of being bored when you’re young.

    You expect them to hire a new principal between now and the end of the school year?

  124. They just sent an email saying they have three finalists and will have a meeting next week to allow parents to meet them and provide feedback. My guess is they will hire someone in the next month or two, and bring them on to be in place for next year. I’m not sure what this has to do with the issue.

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