Friday, May 13, 2011

Ethos and the Bullshit Detector

e·thos (ths)
The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement: "They cultivated a subversive alternative ethos" (Anthony Burgess).

A writer should have Ethos. If your are studying with a professor, you assume his Ethos. That means you would think as a professor, he would behave, think or do what a professor would do. All God's chillin's got Ethos. Since perceived ethos is going to determine what you believe about something or someone, it would be good to have good ethos. It also means you can be misled by people, because you think too highly of them. It also means you will ignore what they say or do, if you have the perception of poor ethos, like "that dude is from a bad crowd full of idiots". Since few of you guys know me and I don't have letters behind my name, you have even less clue if you should listen to me other than you would any other blogger. So I am going to build my bullshit detector so you can figure out my ethos and the ethos of others.

Now if I just post up stuff, that doesn't help. There is a huge gap in public perception based on ideology, race, religion and culture. So for all the left wing thinkers I am going to use a lecture from Berkley, liberal bastion of education for many.

From a lecture series, "Physics for Future Presidents", By Dr. Richard A. Muller, professor of physics, University of California, Berkley.

The video is 48 minute long and explains the basics of radioactivity.

This video is an hour and thirteen minutes long.

Both of these were posted first by a commenter on watts up with that. They will work setting up my radioactivity and nuclear energy bullshit detector.

The bullshit detector will have (when I am done) lots of stuff to help you understand basic physics, so you can detect bullshit. I am starting with radioactivity because all sorts of radioactive processes formed the universe as we understand it. There is tons of information you can gain about our past and future from understanding radioactivity.

Alpha particles, little bits of an atom's nucleus, beta particles, electrons loss that change an atom's charge and gamma rays, electromagnetic radiation emitted during radioactive decay, are all around us. We can't live without them, so let's try to understand them.

An Alpha particle is the largest atomic particle, it is two protons and two neutrons, just like the nucleus of the Helium atoms. Clothes, paper, just about anything, even air, will stop an alpha particle.

A Beta particle is normally an electron though it can be a positron also known as an anti-electron. A beta particle is very small and more energetic that an alpha particle, but can be stopped with thicker solid objects. (Gases also but that is another subject.)

Gamma rays are electromagnetic energy released by radioactivity. They are the most energetic of the three common forms of radiation and very difficult to stop. They are the reason for lead shielding commonly used working with radioactive materials.

There is one more common particle, the neutron, which is basically a proton without a charge. Alpha particles, beta particles and neutrons are all particles because they have mass. An alpha particle has the mass of two protons and two neutrons, a beta particle has the mass of one electron. Protons, neutrons and electrons all have very small masses, 1.67262 x 10^-27, 1.67493 x 10^-27 and 0.000910939 x 10^-27 kilograms respectively. I only put those numbers in to show that a neutron's mass is about the same as a proton plus an electron. A free proton is called a hydrogen ion and is considered stable, but a free neutron is not stable, within about 15 minutes it will breakdown into a free proton, an electron and something called a neutrino.

To give an idea how small their mass is a billion is 10^9. A billion times a billion times a billion is 10^27, so a neutron is 1.67493 divided by a billion times a billion times a billion. The proper name for something a billion times a billion times a billion is 1,000,000 Zeta . One divided by 1,000,000 Zeta is 0.000001 Zepto. There are real big and real small numbers used in climate science and nuclear physics. The reason I used Zeta (10^21) and Zepto (10^-21) is because of the electron volt. One kilowatt-second (note: not kiloWatt-hour) is equal to 6.2415 Zeta (10^21) electron volts is equal to 1000 Joules. Every scientific bullshit detector has to have a scientific notation and units converter. This link is for one of many Free Energy and Work Conversion Tables available online.

Why is this important? There is a government report that says energy demand will increase from 495 quadrillion in 2007 to 543 quadrillion in 2015 (I am not kidding). What the hell is a quadrillion?

quadrillion [kwɒˈdrɪljən]
1. (Mathematics) (in Britain) the number represented as one followed by 24 zeros (10^24) US and Canadian word septillion
2. (Mathematics) (in the US and Canada) the number represented as one followed by 15 zeros (10^15) determiner (preceded by a or a numeral)
a. amounting to this number a quadrillion atoms
b. (as pronoun) a quadrillion
[from French quadrillon, from quadri- + -illion, on the model of million]
quadrillionth adj

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

So a British quadrillion (10^24) is a Billion (10^9)times bigger than an American quadrillion (10^15). That makes an umptillion (10^?)of sense to me? So use of scientific notation (10 to the whatever) makes sense. Use of goofy term for some power of ten does not, unless it is a standard scientific goofy term.

In the first video the size of a proton is compared to the diameter of an electron's orbit or shell is like a mosquito in the middle of a football stadium. So if an electron volt is the size of a mosquito,how long would a line be if you lined a watt-second worth of mosquitoes up? 3 millimeters (10^-3) times 1 million (10^6)is 1000 (10^3) kilometers, a billion mosquitoes would be a kilometer long placed end to end. If you subtract a billion (10^9) from a Zeta (10^21) you get 10^12. So a line of mosquitoes equal to the number of electron volts in a Watt-second would be on the order of 10^12 kilometers long or 1 trillion kilometers long. I said order of magnitude because, how big is 6.2415 compared to 1,000,000,000,000?

Back to radioactivity, the explosion of one atom in a nuclear reaction is roughly(about) equal to one million (10^6) explosions in a chemical reaction. Make a note, roughly and about tingle the bullshit detector, but are valid as long as the units and order of magnitude are right. So one pound of uranium 235 is about equal to a million pounds of coal. 2000 (2x10^3) pounds is a US ton, so a million (10^6) pounds of coal is 500 US tons of coal (no about is used because it is a straight forward conversion). In case you were wondering, 500 tons is a little less than 5 rail cars full of coal(a little less because hopper cars range from 80 tons to 130 tons, 110 tons is the approximate average).

Just for fun, one coal train can have about 130 hopper cars with up to 130 tons of coal per hopper car for a total of 16,900 tons of coal. About 34 pounds of Uranium 235 replaces one coal train assuming 500 tons of coal per pound of uranium.

I used about, up to and assuming in that sentence. Would the bullshit detector tingle or go into full alarm? Just tingle, it is pretty easy to verify basic data and calculations. About, up to, assuming, likely, unlikely and "highly" versions of both and uncertainty, are all terms you should expect to see when dealing with a complex subject. Trust but verify!

Depending how well the nuclear reactor is designed and the efficiency of both the reactor and the coal plant used in the comparison, you can get much different numbers. this is the apples and oranges conundrum. Without even trying to, an honest scientist or writer can bias their results. People can also make mistakes. People can also lie. So the bullshit detectors should have a needle with green, yellow and red indications on its dial.

Equating a pound of U235 to 500 tons of coal is a convenient way of relating to the general public. Journalists do this all the time and scientists, good ones anyway, try to most of the time. Peer reviewed scientific papers have abstracts and conclusions that a person with a bullshit detector can use to double check facts. That is not true if the paper has scientific reviews and corrigenda published after the paper was published. A corrigenda is a published correction to a paper published in a peer reviewed journal. Scientific reviews that mention possible errors are rarely published with the paper either. Referencing outdated or flawed papers is pretty common. Out of context referencing is common as well.

There are people that live to check facts. does a very good job and should be in everyone' bullshit detector. Climate change and nuclear safety are not Snopes strong suits. There are a lot of wanna be climate blogs and nuclear blogs that try to be like snopes. Some do pretty good and some suck. There are very few that do not have some bias that effects their choice of topic or interpretation of data. One of the good ones for climate science is science of doom. For nuclear energy, the nuclear tourist is a good source. Both of these stick to the facts and don't draw hard conclusions without good reasoning. There are tons of other sites that have good information, but enough flaws that you have to be careful.

I am adjusting the nuclear energy range on the bullshit detector, so let's look at the nuclear tourist. It provides a lot of links to relevant documents available online. That is a good thing, but it is difficult to navigate and requires a lot of effort on the part of the curious to do his own research. Links that are hard to find are some of the best like Why Nuclear? That is an accurate list of the pros and cons of different energy sources with good links to get more information. It does not get into any detail about the pros and cons though. That is one of the reasons I started this site and this bullshit detector. The Nuclear tourist is a good but limited resource. Wikipedia is a fairly good source, but doesn't give definite conclusions. So good sources that do not require a bullshit detector may not be of much help. You have to go to more controversial sites with your bullshit detector some times or just trust the policy makers.

Nuclear Power Now! sounds like it may be a little opinionated. A quick scan shows no outrageous claims and does provide quality links (I did not check them all) to support statements. Nuke Free dot org. sound pretty opinionated. Oops, there goes the bullshit detector!

"Regarding water impacts of nuclear power plants, almost every single operating atomic reactor has leaked radioactive tritium into groundwater, sometimes in massive amounts. When not leaking into groundwater, nuclear power plants have permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to "routinely release" tritium and other toxic and radioactive pollutants into the nearby river, lake, or ocean." Damn that is sensational and we should all join their emotional plea to protect us from what?

"What is Tritium?

Tritium (H-3) is a weakly radioactive isotope of the element hydrogen that occurs both naturally and during the operation of nuclear power plants. Tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years and emits a weak beta particle. The most common form of tritium is in water, since tritium and normal hydrogen react with oxygen in the same way to form water. Tritium replaces one of the stable hydrogens in the water molecule, H2O, and creates tritiated water, which is colorless and odorless.

Tritium can be found in self-luminescent devices, such as exit signs in buildings, aircraft dials, gauges, luminous paints, and wristwatches. It is also used in life science research and in studies investigating the safety of potential new drugs.

For more information on tritium exit icon"

You can read the health risks of tritiated water here

Tritium is a beta particle emitter. Bananas (potassium 40) are a beta particle emitter. You ingest water. You ingest bananas. A banana dose of radiation is 520 picocurries (10^-12 Curries) per banana. How much more tritium than the normal 1600 to 3000 picocurries will be ingested by people drink ground water in the area? Do people drink ground water in the area? Why the hell should I be worried about the tritium that may go into ground water that already has tritium in it that no body drinks? Without going any further the impassioned authors are long on hype and short on substance.

Should the plant release any tritium? Should there be rodent hair in my hotdogs? Should I petition to to have zero exposure to tritium, rodent hair and di-hydrogen mono oxide while I am at it? Do y'all get the picture? Impassioned, liberal and literate do not mean right nor does impassioned, conservative and illiterate. Oh, I forgot, right is wrong and left is right. No friggin' wonder I am not politically aligned. That's how the bullshit detector works. I would need to do a lot of research and calculations to determine the public health impact mentioned, which the author was too lazy to do. So blow these buttwipes off.

Here is a list of anti-nuclear power groups and here a list of pronuclear power groups, er there aren't linked in wikipedia. President Obama is supporting new nuclear power plants, so he must be a right wing nut job. Okay enough piling on. The guys think it is the right thing to do, so even though they are wrong, they are doing the right thing:) I like my new bullshit detector!

Buttwipes have no party affiliation, so expect the bullshit detector to go off often. As I post things on this blog, I am going to reference back to this bullshit detector. I may have to do some research for the new post, so I will try to outline the things I had to go through to understand the subject of my post. Then the bullshit detector is a living resource. Do what the videos when you get a chance. There are pros and cons to each energy source, the more you know the better.

Radiation treatment for cance
r is when plenty of people get up close and personal with radioactivity. Cancer and radioactivity both scare the hell out of people. In the second video, Dr. Muller touched on chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Cancer cells are mutant normal cells that have gone nuts procreating. Their new mutated genetic code tells them to go forth and multiply like crazy. The new code does not tell them to use protection. So these mutant cells are killed more easily by poisons, chemical or radiative, than normal cells that practice safe sex. Dosing the whole body kills the cancer cells. The trick is not to kill the patient. Since radiation can be focused on the malignant cells instead of all the cells in the body, it can do less damage while getting the job done.

Radioactive material that emits beta particles can be implanted in the malignant tumors to slowly kill the tumor from the inside out(invasive). The whole body can be shot up with radioactive material to kill wide spread cancer (systemic treatment, normally radioactive iodine (I-131), a beta emitter for thyroid cancer). Gamma rays (and/or x-rays) can be shot at the tumor(s) killing the tumor(s) uniformly. Shooting the gamma rays from two or more angles at the same time or at different times, increases the dose to the tumor while decreasing the dose to healthy tissue.

For the Climate Change issue, here is the first part of the growing climate knob.

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