Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Words to warm Peter's heart

I couldn't resist posting this snippet from President Barack Obama's inauguration speech:
We will restore science to its rightful place

Of course, without an explanation of where that rightful place is, that is a statement that can't help but garner everyone's support, from those who see its rightful place in a dustbin to those who see it on a pedestal.

I prefer to see it in a reference library.

20 Comments:

Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Hopefully "proper" means "not government funded". Many secularists go on about the Creationists but in terms of corrupting and destroying science the influence of massive funding has and will do far more damage. One need only look at AGW and how it has been handled in the scientific community to see that.

January 21, 2009 7:43 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

What's that icon with your post? A rocket?

Surely you were not against government rocket science?

The parts of the speech I heard (only a small part) sounded very much like 'we will bear any burden,' except, of course, Kennedy was not prepared to bear the burden of unleashing the B-26s.

January 21, 2009 9:20 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

I took that to be a reference to Creationism.

Very unlikely to be any holding back of Warmenism, I'd have thought.

January 22, 2009 4:11 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

No, and somehow I doubt he was referring to this either.

The use of the verb "restore" is interesting. Apart from being arguably a coded reference to foetal cell research, where and when was that pedestal science has tumbled so far down from? Aren't you supposed to have a reformation before launching a counter-reformation?

January 22, 2009 6:07 AM  
Blogger David said...

It was mostly about Warmism, and to some extent about embryonic stem cells.

January 22, 2009 6:29 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

"Surely you were not against government rocket science?"

Yes I am. Very strongly, in fact. I think that government rocket science is the primary reason we don't have routine access to space. I think we have lost decades of time due to NASA.

January 22, 2009 7:47 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, I understand you are against gov't rocket science now. But surely you do not think that without gov't interference ever it would be further along than it is now?

Without DARPANet, would we be blogging yet?

I doubt it.

January 22, 2009 10:02 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I think that government rocket science is the primary reason we don't have routine access to space.

Well, aside from gravity, of course.

Without DARPANet, would we be blogging yet?

Without at doubt. It isn't like the underlying concepts are, um, rocket science.

January 22, 2009 11:11 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Yes, I do think we would be ahead in terms of space travel without government funded rocket science and we would be weblogging. Remember that the Internet was invented by the people who founded Cisco. The company was built on the first device that hooked two different networks together. And of course all of the Internet standards that support weblogging beyond TCP/IP all came out of the private sector.

Also, I will note that you mischaracterized my claim, changing "funding rocket science" to "intervening". One model of government interference that might work would be the same that helped the airplane industry, the purchase of services rather than direct research / development. One must keep in mind that the presence of something like NASA strongly doesn't compete with the private sector but, in an application of Gresham's Law, debilitates private efforts.

January 22, 2009 3:50 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Yes to both Skipper and AOG and if you've ever worked with federal interference as in the grant process at universities, it would be obvious how the process of "research" changed to follow the money.

January 23, 2009 7:05 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

"Remember that the Internet was invented by the people who founded Cisco."

It wasn't Al Gore?

January 24, 2009 3:12 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

But the government did ask for outside contracting in the space program. I cannot locate it right now, but my physics adviser wrote an amusing piece about how that worked. I'll see if it's still around.

More generally, David Hounsell has exhaustively documented the role of the War Department in creating modern production, as reviewed here.

January 25, 2009 11:45 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Outside contracting is a very different thing. It's equivalent to having the government build an office building and hiring some firm to put in the dry wall, vs. promising to rent rooms in the building and letting private industry handle the rest. The latter model is the one that worked for commercial aviation and therefore has not been tried with commercial space flight.

January 25, 2009 4:27 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Right, with a century-long net of $0.00. Worked perfect, didn't it?

What private company would have had the bottom to have endured through the series of failures of the early rocket days? Think railroads.

January 25, 2009 10:01 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

It worked well enough that, as far as I can tell, we have cheap commercial air transport to most of the planet. In fact, one of us is actually employed to operate a commercial aircraft. If that's a failure in your view, I can not imagine what you think is required to be a success. Could you describe it to us?

As for railroads, were there not heavy subsidies for those as well in terms of land grants, eminent domain, and other non-monetary concessions? And they must have failed, because what company would have the bottom to endure the years before the rail was complete.

Finally, we have companies now that are enduring various failures to build commercial space vehicles.

What exactly is your point?

January 26, 2009 9:11 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Right, with a century-long net of $0.00. Worked perfect, didn't it?

Cite, please?

I don't think that can possibly be true, other than in some narrow, and likely statistically tortured, sense.

Government support of aviation, taken as money transfers from non-aviation payers to aviation users does not, so far as I can tell, exist.

The Airport and Aviation Trust Fund is supplied exclusively through taxes of various sorts on aviation users. The last time I checked, it made commercial aviation essentially self supporting.

And that is before getting to all the additional taxes thrown on air travel that add up to 40% to the price of a ticket.


The latter model is the one that worked for commercial aviation and therefore has not been tried with commercial space flight.

I'm not sure how the "therefore" fits in there.

Aviation earned commercial returns from the get go -- barnstormers did not exist on government handouts. The first guys to carry mail and passengers competed against existing forms of transportation.

Even assuming there is a commercially viable use for space, the lag between initial (or even existing) performance and commercially required performance is so huge as to make private investment impossibly risky.

January 26, 2009 10:59 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Virtually all 19th century railroads failed, most several times. The serial bankruptcies of American airlines in the 20th c. were exactly similar.

Railroads failed despite massive subsidies.

The airlines got subsidies for carrying mail (as did railroads and steamships).

No direct cite, Skipper, but the notion that airline profits are less than airline losses, net, is a commonplace among business reporters. I don't know who did the original calculation.

So, while a globe-girdling airline system exists, it has not yet proven itself as a business proposition.

The big "subsidy" for airlines was the construction of airfields during World War II. No business model could afford to build airfields (just as no business model could build paved roads), which is why international aviation was by flying boat until 1946.

January 26, 2009 12:42 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

The airlines got subsidies for carrying mail (as did railroads and steamships).

You mean like the pencil-makers got subsidies for supplying pencils?

January 27, 2009 8:53 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Harry:

The airlines got subsidies for carrying mail (as did railroads and steamships).

The airlines get paid for carrying mail -- heck, that is no small part of what FedEx carries. I have no idea where the dividing line is between getting paid for a service and being subsidized.

I have no direct cite, but I strongly suspect that airlines are now getting paid what carrying mail is worth, and that cost to the taxpayer is far less than if the government decided to run its own airline.

No direct cite, Skipper, but the notion that airline profits are less than airline losses, net, is a commonplace among business reporters. I don't know who did the original calculation.

I'm not particularly surprised, as I have often enough read that, but never seen a direct cite.

I think there is one significant problem with that calculation. I'll bet it includes the balance sheets for all airlines that have ever existed, not just the ones that survived.

Again, no direct cite, but until 9/11, I'll bet that if you looked at the the results for United, American, Delta, Northwest and Southwest (roughly the five largest carriers at the time), you would find they were all money making enterprises.

When you say that the existence of an airline system is not sufficient to prove its worth as a business proposition, I think you are confusing state held airlines, which are common in much of the world, with airlines in the US.

I agree that no business model would choose to build an airfield, for the same reasons that there isn't a business model for roads, despite both being valuable for their economic benefits. Would you prefer Hawaii without any runways?

That isn't the same, though, as saying it would have been unaffordable, especially before jets.

Keep in mind: the Aviation Trust Fund, solely user supported, covers all commercial aviation operations. With GPS, the air traffic system will get much cheaper to operate. The FAA is decommissioning an entire class of navaids (non-directional beacons). Directional navaids (VORs) are probably next. Except for older airliners, I'm not sure who uses what, up until recently, was an essential component of the national airspace system.

Finally, while I have not direct cite, IIRC, airline travel is more highly taxed than anything except booze and cigarettes, and maybe not even booze.

January 27, 2009 9:21 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The history of planes and mail is instructive.

Despite a supply of cheap planes and pilots and an apparent demand, no entrepreneur moved to carry air mail in the '20s.

The government tried by ordering the Army Air Corps to do it, but the planning was terrible and there were many crashes and fatalities.

After that, subsidies were offered to private carriers. These were by route, not volume. As also were ocean mail subsidies.

The airfields question is a chicken-and-egg one. Today, airfields generate huge amounts of income -- the one on Maui is three times bigger, in dollars turned over, than the biggest private business on the island.

But that took a while to develop. It's a fact that the ball didn't get rolling till public money provided the push.

Knowing economic history is a kind of curse. My favorite example is a study of carrying freight inland from ports in the United States and Mexico in the 1830s. The US was moving toward railroads, Mexico stuck with mules.

At the time, the study concluded, mules were just as efficient. If the market is to determine all, what would be the result?

January 27, 2009 9:42 AM  

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