Category: Science & technology

Science Sunday: Gene Editing

Genetic engineering has been with us for about forty years. During that time, it has helped us develop more effective drugs, drought- and disease-resistant crops, and a barrage of genetic tests that can measure your risk for such things as breast cancer. It has also sparked a lot of opposition from those who fear its power as well as luddite hatred from anti-GMO types who have successfully slowed the implementation of such as things as “the golden rice” and therefore condemned thousands of children to unnecessary blindness.

Things took another step a couple of weeks ago, however, when researchers in China used the new CRISPR technology to modify the genes of non-viable human embryos. Does this mean we are on the verge of a real-life Gattaca? Should we be worried about this?

Francis Collins, the NIH Director, makes the case against allowing this kind of research:

It’s also very hard to identify the need for this kind of embryo manipulation for human purposes. If you’re talking about genetic disease, we have pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which gives couples at risk for genetic disease a chance to avoid that risk without any manipulation of the germline.

Last, there are deep concerns of a philosophical sort, about what it means for human beings to intentionally manipulate their own genomes. If applied broadly and widely, does that result in us being changed into something other than homo sapiens? I don’t think we even have to go to that one to say this is something we shouldn’t do. The safety arguments and lack of medical need trump [these concerns].

Collins gets one thing very wrong in that paragraph: his claim that pre-implantation diagnosis is enough for couples screening for genetic disease. We looked into this when we were doing fertility treatments (Hal 11000 Beta came about the old-fashioned way after fertility failed). Our doctor told us that the diagnosis tech is shaky at best. And with some disorders — such as Down’s — the errors can occur in some cells but not others. So the idea that there is no “need” for this — even assuming we have to show a need to the likes of Collins — is a bit of a reach.1

But Collins hits most of the points probably going through your head: that this kind of research would be unethical, that messing with the human genome is a dangerous road, etc.

The counterpoint is given by Ramez Naan at Marginal Revolution in two posts (here and here).

[Banning this research] is a mistake, for several reasons.

1. The technology isn’t as mature as reported. Most responses to it are over-reactions.

2. Parents are likely to use genetic technologies in the best interests of their children.

3. Using gene editing to create ‘superhumans’ will be tremendously harder, riskier, and less likely to be embraced by parents than using it to prevent disease.

4. A ban on research funding or clinical application will only worsen safety, inequality, and other concerns expressed about the research.

Part 1 I didn’t find terribly interesting. He’s right that CRISPR can’t create viable genetically modified embryos. But the ethical issues remain. Someday, we probably will have that power.

His other points are much more germane. He points out the human genome, like almost everything in the human body, has many moving parts. There is no single gene for high intelligence or good looks. You would have to make massive changes to many parts of someone’s DNA to, say, make them taller. This is why short parents can have tall kids and vice versa — the genetics are far more complex than, say, hair color.

Manipulating IQ, height, or personality is thus likely to involve making a very large number of genetic changes. Even then, genetic changes are likely to produce a moderate rather than overwhelming impact.

Conversely, for those unlucky enough to be conceived with the wrong genes, a single genetic change could prevent Cystic Fibrosis, or dramatically reduce the odds of Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer or ovarian cancer, or cut the risk of heart disease by 30-40%.

Reducing disease is orders of magnitude easier and safer than augmenting abilities.

That addressed Collins’ major point. There is a medical need for this sort of technology; a big one. One that could be filled very easily and at low risk.

Now, it’s possible we could one day have the technology to modify more complex things like height or intelligence. But that technology is decades away at this point, even assuming it is possible at all. It would require an understanding of genetics, and possibly even more importantly, epigenetics, that is a quantum leap beyond where we are now. It’s something to worry about, but not if its means blocking technology that could cure Cystic Fibrosis.

Naam’s third point is that parents are risk-averse. This plays on the first point. Parents might, in theory, want to give their child a genetic leg up. But the best they might face is a possibility of increasing their child’s IQ by ten points at the potential risk of unknown disorders or complications. While I agree with him, it’s certain that some parents will embrace these risks, especially as the technology matures.

Naam’s final point is basically that this is going to happen. And once it does, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. If we ban it here, it will pop up in China. If we get China to ban it, it will pop up in India. If we get India to ban it, it will pop up in South Africa.

This is not something we can unlearn. It’s something we have to deal with. At this stage, given the crudeness of the technology, I am more than happy for the NIH to ban research into genetically engineering humans. But that’s kicking the can down the road. At some point, we will have to decide what we will and will not allow and who gets to decide what risks are and are not worth it.

We have, however, been here before. In the 1970’s, there were efforts to ban the very genetic engineering that has been so beneficial to us and brought us to this point. Supporters of the ban included James Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA’s structure, and Al Gore, supposed science luminary (Watson later admitted he was wrong). They failed, barely. And as it turned out, it was for the best. As P.J. O’Rourke noted twenty years ago in All the Trouble in the World:

Biotechnologists could still come up with something awful by accident, not to mention on purpose. Nature does it all the time. Nature is forever inventing things like the bubonic plague, although whether intentionally or not is a question too deep for this state college graduate. But, in the meantime, we’ve got a four-billion-dollar biotech industry that produces cheap insulin, accurate tests for everything from pregnancy to colon cancer, new vaccines, the diagnostic process that keeps the nation’s blood supply freed of AIDS and hepatitis, and hundreds of other products, with thousands more on the horizon — a small price to pay for an occasional giant sheep.

Nature is forever editing the human genome. The possibility of humans tampering with their own genetics is frightening and I think we should take the potential risks seriously. But, given history, it is much more likely to result in the ability to cut the risk of cancer than to produce a race of Uma Thurman clones.

Genetic engineering did play one role in Hal’s birth. Thanks to a new genetic screening technique, we were able to test Hal at ten weeks for potential trisomies with 99% accuracy.</sup

Science Sunday: Warp Drives

(Again, a bit late. But it’s still Sunday somewhere, right?)

One of the biggest problems facing space travel is that it is ridiculously expensive. Not just in terms of money, but in terms of fuel. Conventional rockets are wonderful but they require enormous mass to generate thrust. One of the reasons the Saturn rockets were so massive was not just because of the enormous amount of fuel needed to leave Earth orbit but the enormous amount needed to lift that enormous amount of fuel. And if you wanted to make a round trip to, say, Mars, you’d have to take gigantic quantities of fuel with you. Your cargo would be a few people, some food and water and vast amounts of rocket fuel.

There are many ways to overcome this. Some of our spacecraft now use ion thrusters, which are efficient but can’t produce the kind of impetus you need to reach orbit. Our spacecraft frequently used gravitational slingshots, essentially borrowing a tiny fraction of a planet’s orbital energy, to reach the outer parts of the solar system. There have been proposals for space elevators and magnetic catapults.

Well, how about warp drives?

Over the last few weeks, people have been getting excited about the idea that NASA has discovered a warp drive, which could open vast areas of the universe for exploration at a tiny fraction of the cost we’re paying. Well, I hate to throw cold water on it but science is nothing if not a cold water thrower:

Last year, the Eagleworks lab—headed up by Harold “Sonny” White—said at a conference on propulsion technologies that they had measured thrust from an electromagnetic propulsion drive. The basic idea behind an EM drive, which is based on a design from a British engineer named Roger Shawyer, is that it can produce thrust by bouncing microwaves around in a cone-shaped metal cavity.

That would be awesome, of course, except it violates one of the fundamental tenets of physics: conservation of momentum. Saying that a drive can produce thrust without propellant going out the backside is kind of like saying that you can drive your car just by sitting in the driver’s seat and pushing on the dashboard.

Now, the last time this idea popped up it made a bunch of noise, which eventually settled down because of some pretty (ahem) obvious flaws in Eagleworks’ experiments. The physicists hadn’t run the tests in a vacuum—essential for measuring a subtle thrust signal. And while they had tested the drive under multiple conditions, one of them was intentionally set up wrong. That setup produced the same thrust signatures as the other conditions, suggesting that the signals the physicists were seeing were all artifacts.

This time around, Eagleworks researchers said they had addressed one of those problems. “We have now confirmed that there is a thrust signature in a hard vacuum,” wrote Eagleworks member Paul March in a forum. It was that post—all the way back in February—that led to most of last week’s hullabaloo.

So, the Eagleworks people have eliminated one of a myriad of problems with their experiment. But many remain, the work is unrefereed and, even if its real, we’re talking about very very tiny amounts of thrust that is barely above the detection threshold.

In other words, it sounds an awful lot like cold fusion. I’m glad someone is researching far-out ideas for changing space travel. But we shouldn’t mistake it for a breakthrough until there’s an actual, you know, breakthrough.

(These are the same guys who circulated an artist’s conception of a warp drive ship that many outlets mistook for an actual design from NASA.)

Right now, there is simply no way to make space travel easy. It would be nice if we could work an alternative. But so far, no luck.

(PS – If you want to see a movie that addresses issues of space travel in an interesting way, check out Interstellar.)

Science Sunday: Why You Should Vaccinate, Part 457

One issue that I am fairly militant about is vaccination. Vaccines are arguably the greatest invention in human history. Vaccines made smallpox, a disease that slaughtered billions, extinct. Polio, which used to maim and kill millions, is on the brink of extinction. And earlier this week, Rubella became extinct in the Americas:

After 15 years of a widespread vaccination campaign with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization announced yesterday that rubella no longer circulates in the Americas. The only way a person could catch it is if they are visiting another country or if it is imported into a North, Central or South American country.

Rubella, also known as German measles, was previously among a pregnant woman’s greatest fears. Although it’s generally a mild disease in children and young adults, the virus wreaks the most damage when a pregnant woman catches it because the virus can cross the placenta to the fetus, increasing the risk for congenital rubella syndrome.

Congenital rubella syndrome can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, but even the infants who survive are likely to have birth defects, heart problems, blindness, deafness, brain damage, bone and growth problems, intellectual disability or damage to the liver and spleen.

Rubella used to cause tens of thousands of miscarriages and birth defects every year. Now it too could be pushed to extinction.

Of course, many deadly diseases are now coming back thanks to people refusing to vaccinate their kids. There is an effort to blame this on “anti-government” sentiment. But while that plays role, the bigger role is by liberal parents who think vaccines cause autism (you’ll notice we’re getting outbreaks in California, not Alabama). As I’ve noted before, the original research that showed a link between vaccines and autism is now known to have been a fraud. This week, we got another even more proof:

On the heels of a measles outbreak in California fueled by vaccination fears that scientists call unfounded, another large study has shown no link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism.

The study examined insurance claims for 96,000 U.S. children born between 2001 and 2007, and found that those who received MMR vaccine didn’t develop autism at a higher rate than unvaccinated children, according to results published Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA. Even children who had older siblings with autism—a group considered at high risk for the disorder—didn’t have increased odds of developing autism after receiving the vaccine, compared with unvaccinated children with autistic older siblings.

96,000 kids — literally 8000 times the size of the sample Wakefield had. No study has ever reproduced Wakefield’s results. That’s because no study has been a complete fraud.

There’s something else, though. This issue became somewhat personal for me recently. My son, Hal 11000 Beta, came down with a bad cough, a high fever and vomiting. He was eventually admitted to the hospital for a couple of days with pneumonia, mainly to get rehydrated. He’s fine now and playing in the next room as I write this. But it was scary.

I mention this because one of the first questions the nurses and doctors asked us was, “Has he been vaccinated?”

My father, the surgeon, likes to say that medicine is as much art as science. You can know the textbooks by heart. But the early symptoms of serious diseases and not-so-serious one are often similar. An inflamed appendix can look like benign belly pain. Pneumonia can look like a cold. “Flu-like symptoms” can be the early phase of anything from a bad cold to ebola. But they mostly get it right because experience with sick people has honed their instincts. They might not be able to tell you why they know it’s not just a cold, but they can tell you (with Hal, the doctor’s instinct told him it wasn’t croup and he ordered a chest X-ray that spotted the pneumonia).

Most doctors today have never seen measles. Or mumps. Or rubella. Or polio. Or anything else we routinely vaccinate for. Thus, they haven’t built up the experience to recognize these conditions. Orac, the writer of the Respectful Insolence blog, told me of a sick child who had Hib. It was only recognized because an older doctor had seen it before.

When I told the doctors Hal had been vaccinated, their faces filled with relief. Because it meant that they didn’t have to think about a vast and unfamiliar terrain of diseases that are mostly eradicated. It wasn’t impossible that he would have a disease he was vaccinated against — vaccines aren’t 100%. But it was far less likely. They could narrow their focus on a much smaller array of possibilities.

Medicine is difficult. The human body doesn’t work like it does in a textbook. You don’t punch symptoms into a computer and come up with a diagnosis. Doctors and nurses are often struggling to figure out what’s wrong with a patient let alone how to treat it. Don’t cloud the waters even further by making them have to worry about diseases they’ve never seen before.

Vaccinate. Take part in the greatest triumph in human history. Not just to finally rid ourselves of these hideous diseases but to make life much easier when someone does get sick.

Science Sunday: Twin Spin

Two stories I want to highlight this week.

The first is some exciting news in cancer research. It’s been over four decades since President Nixon declared a “war on cancer” and while we have many treatments for it, of varying effectiveness, a “cure” is elusive. The biggest reason is that we’ve discovered that cancer is an incredibly complex panoply of conditions, some of which respond to certain therapies, some of which don’t. Last week, we heard about a therapy that’s having stunning results:

The 49-year-old woman had had three melanoma growths removed from her skin, but now the disease was spreading further. A several-centimeter-sized growth under her left breast went deep into her chest wall. Some of the tissue in the tumor was dying because of lack of blood flow.

Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offered her an experimental combination of two drugs: Opdivo and Yervoy, both manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb, both among a vanguard of new medicines that boost the immune system to attack tumors. Three weeks later she came back for her second dose.

“She didn’t say anything and when I examined her, I said, ‘Wait a minute!’” says Paul Chapman, the doctor who was treating her. “She said, ‘Yeah, it kind of just dissolved.’”

Where the tumor was before was, literally, a hole – a wound doctors hope will heal with time. Chapman took some fluid from it, and found there were no melanoma cells there. “I’ve been in immunotherapy for a long time, and we’ve talked and fantasized about reactions like this, but I’ve never seen anything this quickly,” he says. He skipped her next dose, and gave her two more before she stopped treatment because of the diarrhea the drug combination was causing. She has no detectable melanoma – amazing for a disease that has long been considered close to untreatable.

The drug is proving very effective, wiping about about 20% of the cancers its encounters. The results from an investigation into lung cancer were so effective that Bristol-Myers Squibb ended the trial early because it was unethical to withhold the drug from placebo patients.

This isn’t a “cure” but it is very promising. There are concerns, because the drug is very expensive ($250,000 per year of treatment). As McArdle points out, the new emphasis on cost effectiveness may limit access to the drug. But even if it only goes to the super rich for now, it’s blazing a path that other less expensive drugs might follow.

And people wonder where the money for prescription drugs goes.

In other news, this week marked the 25th birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope, which they celebrate with this spectacular image of Westerlund 2 (Click to see the full image):

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I’ve written about Hubble before (here, here, here and here). It has challenged everything we thought we knew about the universe and thrown down the gauntlet for future missions. Happy Birthday.

Science Sunday: Super Civilizations

So I’ll kick off what I hope will be a regular feature here: science sunday, where I’ll blog about a recent scientific result I think is interesting. This week, I’ll blog on something a bit close to me.

(It’s a bit late this week since I’ve been chopping down trees, spreading mulch and dealing with a sick kid. But it’s still Sunday somewhere.)

One of the biggest questions in science — indeed in human history — is whether we are alone in the universe. I am convinced that we will soon find evidence of very simple life within our solar system — archaea or some other simple organism in martian fossils or in the seas of Europa, Ganymede or Titan. We have now detected thousands of planets beyond our solar system, including a number in the “goldilocks zone” where liquid water can exist. But detecting intelligent life is way beyond our current capabilities.

Maybe.

It might actually be possible to detect a sufficiently advanced civilization. SETI has looked in the radio for a long time with no results. But radio communication may be a short-lived phase for alien civilizations. What may be more plausible is looking for heat signatures:

One of the largest-ever searches for distant alien empires has scoured 100,000 galaxies for signs of suspicious infrared activity and found… nothing.

The study by Penn State used data from Nasa’s Wise (“Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer”) orbiting observatory to scour far-off galaxies for radiation which, astronomers theorise, would likely be produced if a civilisation were powerful enough to colonise thousands of stars.

The theory that aliens might be visible on a galactic scale is based on the ideas of physicist Freeman Dyson, who suggested in the 1960s that galactic civilisations would almost by definition use most of the starlight in their galaxy for their own ends. This should be detectable using mid-infrared telescopes. That wasn’t possible when Dyson’s theory emerged, but Nasa’s Wise telescope does have the ability to make close measurements for thousands of galaxies, and so allow scientists to study the data for telltale signs of life.

No, they didn’t find it. But scientists have found 50 galaxies with unusual radiation signatures, indicating something strange is happening inside many distant collections of stars — even if it’s nothing to do with aliens at all.

There have been a few other studies looking for the radiation signatures of nearby Dyson Spheres but there haven’t been any hints of anything yet.

An alien species would have had to have been around for millions of years for us to see the effects of their capturing vast amounts of starlight. So this is the extreme end of the hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence. But with millions of galaxies out there, there’s at least a chance we could find one. It’s a million to one shot but if it ever paid off it would be an incredible discovery. And even it doesn’t, we’ll still learn a lot about galaxies.

Greens Silent on Commie Planet-Wrecking … Again

During the Cold War, there was a predictable pattern to Eastern Bloc environmental concerns. The Communists would engage in some awful mind-boggling environment-destroying big project like draining the Aral Sea. Not because it made any economic sense to do so but because it glorified the state. Then the greens would say absolutely nothing about it.

How times haven’t changed:

Nicaragua’s plan to build an Interoceanic Canal that would rival the Panama Canal could be a major environmental disaster if it goes forward. That’s the assessment of Axel Meyer and Jorge Huete-Pérez, two scientists familiar with the project, in a recent article in Nature.

In their article, Meyer and Huete-Pérez explain how the $50-billion project (more than four times Nicaragua’s GDP), would require “The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, [and] will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.” So far, the Nicaraguan government has remained mum about the environmental impact of the project. Daniel Ortega, the country’s president, only said last year that “some trees have to be removed.”

Have you a word about this from Greenpeace? Or the Sierra Club? Or any of the organizations that are currently throwing a fit about Keystone XL, a far far less destructive project? That’s to say nothing of the unconstitutional way this project was approved, the fact that all proceeds from it for the next 50 years will go to the Chinese company building the project, the lack of experience for the team building, the extremely dubious economic case for the canal and the farmers being evicted off their land. If even one of those things were happening in the US, we’d be hearing about it on MSNBC every night.

I’m not usually one for the Balloon Juice Fallacy. But the study about the environmental devastation was published a year ago. And there’s a history here, as I noted above. Ortega is a former communist and Chavez-type socialist. The greens have been reluctant to criticize far-left politicians for their environmental destruction. And that’s a polite of saying the completely look the other way. Because environmental damage cause by industry is bad. Environmental damage done for “the people” even when the people are far-left politicians lining their pockets? That’s OK.

GoreSat Finally Orbits

One of my pet peeves is the contention that conservatives and Republicans are “anti-science” while liberals and Democrats are “pro-science”. Having been in the field for twenty years, I’ve observed little difference in how well science is funded under the two parties, with a slight bias in favor of Republicans. And while it’s true that Republicans are more dubious of science on the big topics du jour — global warming and evolution — that doesn’t mean they are more anti-science in general. When it comes to GMOs, vaccines or nuclear power, the Left is way more anti-science.

My dislike of this meme is embodied in the person of Algore, who has a reputation as this great scientific mind but has always crossed me as a poser: someone who pretends to be a friend of science because he wants to look smart (and, in his case, wants to advance a big government agenda). He wrote a well-praised book — Earth in the Balance — that was shredded in P.J. O’Rourke in All The Trouble in the World and proved to be massively wrong on many issues. He touted a plan to move the United States to alternative energy within ten years that was total science fiction. His advocacy on global warming — hypocritical advocacy — touted doomsday scenarios and marginal studies. It was ultimately a disservice to the climate debate.

But if you want Algore in a nutshell, I give you the Triana satellite, a version of which was launched today. Triana started with this crackpot idea of Gore’s to have a satellite launched which would sit in the L1 Lagrange point and take pictures of the Earth. That’s it. It would take pictures of the Earth to “raise awareness” of our climate. NASA devoted $100 million to this boondoggle, without any peer review, and desperately tried to get scientists to find some use for it. The best they could come up with measuring Earth’s albedo and cloud patterns, although Triana was not what you would have designed with that science program in mind. When the SOHO spacecraft was having trouble, they came up with a plan to put instruments on it to measure solar activity, since the L1 point is good for that.

Triana was mothballed after Bush won the White House but was resurrected by Obama. The satellite — now named DSCOVR — has been revamped so that its primary mission is to measure solar storms and provide and early warning of space weather. The Earth picture thing is an afterthought. Notice that’s NASA’s video doesn’t mention Algore’s original Triana mission at all.

If anyone other than Algore had proposed Triana, burned $100 million on it and had NASA scramble to find an actual scientific use for it, they would have been laughingstock. But today the press is filled with stories about how this is Algore’s “dream” even though his original proposal had nothing to do with DSCOVR’s primary mission.

DSCOVR is a good mission and I’m glad it launched today. I’m even gladder that it was launched by SpaceX. Space weather is a serious issue and we desperately need to address the impact that a severe solar storm could have on our planet (think about a world-wide power grid meltdown to get the picture). But let’s not pretend this has anything to do with Algore. This is NASA making some very good lemonade from a $100 million lemon.

Vaccines in the News Again

Thanks to low vaccination rates, we are currently experiencing a large measles outbreak in this country. I’ve discussed vaccines before. My position is that vaccines are one of the greatest inventions in history, that they should be mandatory for public school students (with medical exemptions) and strongly encouraged for everyone else. And I’m glad to see that after spending a number of years waffling, our political establishment, from Hillary Clinton to Congressional and Gubernatorial Republicans are coming down strongly in favor of them.

But … there’s no public health crisis that the Left can’t try to politicize. You may remember last year when they tried to blame the Ebola outbreak on mythical Republican budget cuts. Well, now they are jumping on comments by Rand Paul and Chris Christie that supposedly embrace anti-vax lunacy. This supposedly represents how “anti-science” the GOP is (numerous pro-vaccine statement from every other Republican on the planet not withstanding).

The thing is, neither of them said anything crazy. Rand Paul supports vaccines, although he did apparently garble a statement about vaccines and autism and does think parents should make the decisions. And Christie’s statement was perfectly in line with the conventional wisdom. He vaccinated his kids, he supports vaccines but thinks mandates should be based on the danger represented. Both of these are well within the mainstream debate of whether vaccines should be mandated or not.

So … not really much there. And given the number of Republicans who are issuing strong unequivocal statements supporting vaccination, support programs that help poor people get vaccinated and support vaccination mandates for immigrants, this isn’t really a club to bash Republicans with. For all the supposed “anti-science” positions of the Republicans, this isn’t one. The only place I’m seeing opposition to vaccines is the fringe of both parties.

And I find this attention to Christie and Paul especially odd given that one of the biggest anti-vax nuts out there is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has often gotten slavering attention from the media as some kind of environmental crusader. But you wouldn’t know that from the mainstream media.

Stop trying to make this a partisan issue, guys. It really isn’t.

Gas prices, the ppb of oil, and the future

I filled up my car today and paid $2.11 a gallon here in The People’s Republic of Connecticut. In some other parts of the nation that don’t have ridiculously high government imposed gas taxes – taxes that they claim they will use to fix the crumbling infrastructure and ill maintained infrastructure they have held tenure over, but somehow always end up in the general fund where they then get spent on vote buying social pet projects – this number is now below $2 a gallon. The last time I remember oil under $2 a gallon was a decade ago. But why is this happening? There are a ton of varying opinions about cause and effect out there. Let’s explore.

First off, the obligatory democrats are always talking out of their ass reference. They knew they were full of shit, we knew it, and because despite every and all efforts by the Obama administration failing to hinder the expansion of US oil recovery, we got more drilling, we now have definite proof. Collectivist Keynesian shitbags can pretend that the economic laws of supply and demand don’t matter – like they do with the reality of human nature and a lot of other natural laws – but reality has a way of bitch-slapping stupid people. You fuckers knew you were lying when you were pretending more oil on the market would not reduce prices, and we now have proven it. The opposition to any more drilling and recovery was primarily because these Marxists fucks want to destroy the brown energy industry to favor their friends, and coincidentally another one of their special interest big donor blocks, in the proven failed green industry.

Back to business now that we have gotten that out of the way. This precipitous price drop, even though I believe it will not remain that low forever (more about that later), is bound to jump start our economy and help a lot of us that now will have extra pocket change. And it doesn’t come without the profiteers trying to screw over the tax payers yet again. The leftists, under the guise of getting more money to fix the very infrastructure they have been neglecting for decades, precisely because they were diverting gas tax dollars to social pet projects, are putting pressure on everyone to get more money from people that are finally getting a much needed and deserved break in the though economic times the leftists have given us.

As if this time the bulk of this extra revenue wouldn’t actually also be diverted to vote buying projects they depend on. Yeah, and pigs will fly too. These assholes count on people’s stupidity and envy. Think about how these will impact us all once prices climb again – and they will. Let us also note that this money grab is not limited to the feds. Many state governments, especially the ones run by democrats that do the same as the feds (like mine), are all hoping to follow that example and do the same. Can’t have people keeping more of their money when they need to buy votes in these desperate times that their base consists of so many of the non-productive. It is almost as if these people’s decision making is based on what can do the most economic harm possible. Of course, when you already believe the money doesn’t belong to the people earning it in the first place, you tend to not bother with these stupid details anyway.

Now that we have gotten that nasty business out of the way, let’s discuss why the prices are dropping as precipitously and fast as they are. The general consensus is that the Saudis are doing this, and it is on purpose. The Saudis, OPEC’s biggest producers, have decided not to cut their output to regulate prices, and are counting on their over $800 billion in reserves to ride out this shorting of the market. The move to let the oil prices plummet is basically driven by their calculated belief that if the price goes too low it will force fledgling the US oil industry, especially the fracking industry that the Russians had been directly targeting without much success so far, I add, to collapse.

The Saudis, like most of the other OPEC nations and Russia, all need oil to be at between $90 and $100 a barrel to keep their current economic plans viable. The supply produced by the US has basically made that impossible, because the extra oil was sooner than later going to force a correction that would drop prices and keep them between $65 to $75 per barrel. And while that drop is something that would be an economic boon to most of the world that depends on oil for energy, it would spell a slow economic death for the oil producing nations that need/want the higher prices. Have no doubt that this move is a calculated attack on the US oil industry. The Saudis are counting that if they keep the prices below $50 a barrel for a while that they can drive the US out of the oil producing. Even more important is their belief that the greens will then prevent that oil producing industry from coming back for decades. This gamble that the greens will prevent the oil production from starting right back up again is based on their observation of how things played out in the 70s, and while many believe that this time it will not work, I think that their gamble isn’t all that crazy. The greens, after all, want to destroy the brown energy sector and don’t give two flying fucks how costly and destructive their agenda is, because in the end it is about them lining their pockets above all else. Most of the big actors have become stinking rich fucking us all over.

The fact is that this economic boon they will usher in and the low gas prices themselves can’t last as the demand and supply curve correct themselves eventually. But then again, we can make some economic moves that will preposition us to come out of this attack against our economy and economic interests, as the winners. The fact is that anything that keeps the price of oil lower than the $90 to $100 per barrel that the actors behind this attack want is a good thing. Lower prices would be a huge hit that forces some of the world’s shittiest nations to change their ways, for lack of funds to cause trouble with, to at a minimum do less harmful things. That would be a big bonus for the world in general. Of course I doubt this administration and the collectivists that are in league with the greens have any desire to do so, and they will actually do things that will undermine that possibility. We need to make sure we push back and prevent them from doing that. Cheap energy is exactly what the world needs right now, just like it needs a lot less big intrusive Keynesian nanny-state government.

In the mean time enjoy this gift for as long as it is allowed to last by the people that want to control us serfs.

I Would Do Anything for the Planet, But I Won’t Do That

Reason writer Ronald Bailey hung out with some of the recent climate protesters at the People’s Climate March. I’ve written about their convenient embrace of science when it suits their biases before, but Bailey really gets into the awful thinking that underpins much of the modern environmental movement:

Among the chief capitalist villains: Monsanto. The assembled marchers fervently damned the crop biotechnology company despite the fact that modern high yield biotech crops cut CO2 emissions by 13 million tons in 2012-the equivalent of taking 11.8 million cars off the road for one year. By making it possible to grow more calories on less land, biotech crops helped conserve 123 million hectares from 1996 to 2012. Many of the protesters oddly believe that eating locally grown organic crops-which require more labor and land to produce less food- will somehow help stop global warming. Vegans are right that eating less meat would mean that more land could be returned to forests that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On the other hand, researchers estimate that lab-grown meat could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent relative to farmed meat.

Fracking aggravated a lot of the demonstrators. Artful placards alluded to another f-word as a way of indicating displeasure. Many asserted that fracking taints drinking water. Yet just the week before the parade, new studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by research teams led by the Ohio State University’s Thomas Darrah and the U.S. Department of Energy found that the controversial technique to produce natural gas does not contaminate groundwater. And never mind that burning natural gas produces about half of the carbon dioxide that burning coal does.

Another low-carbon energy source was also a cause of stress for the demonstrators: nuclear power. Some demanded that the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River be closed down. This particular petition is just perverse, since nuclear power is a big part of why New Yorkers emit a relatively low average of 8 tons of carbon dioxide per person each year, compared with the U.S. average of 16.4 tons per capita.

There is no such thing as perfect energy technology. Even solar and wind involve massive land use, enormous rare earth metal consumption and, at present, fossil fuel backup. Moreover, wind and solar are limited in the absence of a revolution in battery technology. You can’t run airplanes or big cargo ships on alternative energy. You can barely run cars on them.

Until a revolutionary technology is developed, the best way to fight global warming is to delay it as long as possible. GMO crops delay it by decreasing land and fertilizer use. Fracking delays it by cutting carbon emissions in half compared to coal. Nuclear delays it by replacing fossil fuels completely. All of these things have contributed to the US and Europe cutting their carbon emissions without sacrificing economic progress and have bought years, possibly decades, for us to come with a breakthrough technology that can replace fossil fuels.

The problem is that these technologies exist in the real world and the environmentalists want to live in fantasyland, where you can solve complex scientific, technical, social, political and engineering issues with wishcasting and marches; where there are no tradeoffs; where completely revamping our society is something you can do through legislative fiat.

Thankfully, enough people live in the real world that we’re making real progress … without putting capitalism on the funeral pyre.