The Unexpected Perspective
The Implications of Darwin and the Big Bang for Christians ... and Everyone Else


We've got the technology to prevent climate catastrophe, but can we implement it in time?

            It's a "good news/bad news" situation. 

            The good news: there's enough technology available now to solve the climate change problem.  That's because solar and wind power are now highly competitive technologies.  Add to that is the fact that the technology for all electric and hybrid vehicles is now sufficiently good that the world could move fairly quickly to a vehicle fleet composed largely of alternative power.  Plus, technology keeps improving in a broad range of ways, so alternative energy solutions keep getting better.

            And we don't have to eliminate all carbon emissions, just enough to restore the natural equilibrium that existed until just a few years ago.

            Now the bad news: we're in a race against the clock to implement these technologies on a large enough scale to prevent TOO MUCH climate change.  Some people think it's already too late, but I prefer to be optimistic.

            So what might be done to speed up the transition and "beat the clock"? 

            Some people think that this is the perfect time for a good dictator: just implement changes by governmental fiat.  Presto … boom … problem solved!  China's approach comes to mind.  The good news is that the Chinese government seems now to understand the risks to the planet, and large scale alternative energy investments are now underway.

            But anyone who's ever lived under a dictator will quickly tell you it's no panacea … climate change or not.  Besides, most of the world doesn't live that way … and the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan certainly don't. 

            So if you don't happen to live in the Peoples Republic of China, just how do you speed up the transition to a world of much lower carbon emissions?  Here are five ways OTHER THAN WIND, SOLAR, AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES this could be done; and it could be done even if the Trump Administration maintains its negative attitude about climate change risks.

#1: Increase research in negative emissions technologies

            It all starts with basic research and technology.  After all, a key reason wind, solar, and electric vehicles are commercially viable today is because of R&D.  A promising strategy is to encourage more research into "negative emissions technologies", of which there are four types:

  1. Bioenergy in combination with carbon capture and storage (BCCS)
  2. Afforestation
  3. Enhanced weathering
  4. Direct capture of CO2.

Afforestation is the idea of planting lots more trees around the world to soak up all of the excess CO2.  It's a great natural solution, with a big problem: it takes up huge amounts of land and is water intensive.

            More likely, the other three strategies have the most potential.  Let's look at some of the most promising research.  Professor Daniel Nocera at Harvard University is developing what's called an artificial leaf.  The idea is to mimic the natural process of chlorophyll in plants: combine water and CO2 in the air, along with sunlight, to produce glucose and oxygen.    He and his team are trying to convert the sugar produced by this into a useful fuel source.  The other approach they're taking is to add bacteria to the sugar byproduct to produce a nitrogen based fertilizer.

            As reported by Forbes, "Nocera has an even bigger vision for the basic technology. Beyond producing hydrogen and carbon-rich fuels in a sustainable way, he has demonstrated that equipping the system with a different metabolically altered bacterium can produce nitrogen-based fertilizer right in the soil, an approach that would increase crops yields in areas where conventional fertilizers are not readily available. The bacterium uses the hydrogen and CO2 to form a biological plastic that serves as a fuel supply. Once the microbe contains enough plastic, it no longer needs sunshine, so it can be buried in the soil. After drawing nitrogen from the air, it exploits the energy and hydrogen in the plastic to make the fertilizer. Radishes grown in soil containing the microbes ended up weighing 150 percent more than control radishes.  Nocera admits that he initially ran the fertilizer test just to see if the idea would work. He envisions a time, however, when bacteria will "breathe in hydrogen" produced by water splitting and ultimately use the hydrogen to produce desired products ranging from fuels to fertilizers, plastics and drugs, depending on the specific metabolic alterations designed for the bugs."

            At the same time, Professor Jonas Peters at CalTech is conducting experiments to convert CO2 in the atmosphere into multiple carbon products.  The preferred strategy is to create by-products with carbon/carbon bonds.  The reason for this is that such products tend to be in liquid form.  A liquid makes it easier to store energy.

            The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis is doing similar research, as well as Professor Dunwei Wang at Boston College.

#2: Encourage "impact investment" in carbon capture/negative emissions

         What these scientists are doing is highly speculative basic research.  Even if such research produces useful products, much of it probably won't be commercialized.  That's a key reason why so much basic research is funded by the government.  Unfortunately, in the current climate in the USA, it's hard to get lots of basic research funded, particularly by a Federal Government headed by climate change deniers.

            But while the Federal government is a logical participant, there are other entities that might be just as suitable.  State governments are a possibility, though their budgets are very constrained.  Perhaps the best alternative source is "impact investors".

            So just what is impact investing? It refers to investments "made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return."  Instead of just giving money with no expectation of a return, the impact investor seeks a return of all funds invested, as well as some type of financial return on the investment.  This is all in addition to doing good.  With respect to the problem of greenhouse gases, it makes tremendous sense.

            Impact investing funds could do the following for carbon capture and storage:

  1. Make direct investments in companies in the alternate energy space
  2. Make direct investments in carbon capture companies
  3. Make investments in organizations such as the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.

How might an impact investor get a return from an investment in basic research?  One way might be to get patent rights assigned to the impact investor for any intellectual property arising from the research.  Such research requires patient capital.  Impact investors typically aren't looking for quarterly returns.  Impact investing capital can be patient, and it might be an important key in financing carbon capture R&D.

#3: Increase investments in carbon capture businesses

         Part of the good news is that carbon capture has moved beyond the laboratory.  Not a lot of people realize is that there are a number of commercial businesses already doing this.  Here's a quick, partial list of new, smaller firms:

            Global Thermostat

            CO2 Solutions

            Carbon Engineering


But carbon capture isn't the exclusive province of start up companies.  Among big companies – including some "Big Bad Oil Companies" involved in this are:

            Shell Oil


            NRG Energy

Bottom line: more investment is needed in these companies.  Impact investors could be a good source of capital.

#4: Create a bigger market for the products of carbon capture companies

            The carbon capture companies listed above have technology that works, but always remember, you can have the greatest imaginable technology, but not enough customers and you're out of business.  So for this to be a success, the market for carbon capture products needs to grow. 

            So another strategy is to find ways to increase business with those companies.  For example, Climeworks, mentioned earlier, is a Zurich, Switzerland based company that builds modular plants that remove CO2 from the air and concentrates it.  Being modular, the plants can be of widely different sizes and can be placed most anywhere.  Their footprints are pretty small, too.

            One way would be for state and local governments to require companies emitting greenhouse gases to install plants to capture some of the gases emitted.  In the case of electric utilities, regulation is at the state level so it doesn't matter that the Trump Administration opposes this.  A given state public utility commission could tell a utility, you can continue to operate your coal fired plant but you must make an investment in a Climeworks style plant to remove a part of the pollution you create.

            That, however, is a regulatory solution.  How do we get it so consumers and businesses WANT to invest in carbon capture products and technology?

            The fifth strategy may well provide the answer.

#5: Adopt a carbon transfer payment in the USA

            Implementing a carbon tax is an old idea that's been implemented in various countries around the world, but certainly hasn't been in the USA.  It's an elegant solution to the problem … that's dead on arrival in the USA.  The US Congress hasn't raised the gasoline tax in a generation, and that money goes to fund repair and construction, providing an obvious, tangible benefit.  If that's the case, it's hard to believe it would implement a carbon tax.

            But there actually might be a way to do this, and it comes from the most unexpected place – a conservative Republican named Ted Halstead.  Halstead gave a very interesting TED Talk in 2017 on this subject.

            Here's the funny thing about Halstead's idea – it isn't really a tax at all.  It's a transfer payment that goes disproportionately to the less well off.  What it does is place a "tax" on any product that emits carbon.  That would include, for example, oil and gas, as well as coal.  It would mean that prices of gasoline, electricity, and chemical products that are based upon petrochemicals would increase.  The increases would, of course, be a function how much carbon they include.  So in that sense, it would be a tax – a "no no" for Republicans.

            But this is where it gets interesting.  All of the money would be collected, then the money collected would be equally divided amongst all USA citizens and distributed.  That's what's called a "transfer payment".  Billionaires and paupers would each receive the exact same amount.  The idea is that it would cover the cost of the higher prices associated with use of carbon products. 

            The funny thing about this is that Trumpian America should love this.  This would provide regular payments to the down and out – and it would do it without increasing the deficit a penny.  No additional bureaucracy, unless you somehow think the US Postal Service will have to hire more people to deliver all of the checks.

            This would likely make carbon based products more expensive and would help spur a transition to alternative energy.  As traditional carbon based products get more expensive, wind, solar, and carbon capture all become more attractive.  In the meantime, the extra cost that US consumers would pay for products would be offset by the transfer payments.

            Yes, definitely a good news/bad news scenario.  Will we make the transition in time to prevent catastrophic climate change due to a global temperature increases?  Only God knows the answer to that.   In the meantime, we have ways to deal with it.  The real question is, do we have the will to make it happen before the clock runs out?











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The discovery of 1.5 million Adelie penguins in Antarctica was an unexpected surprise, but the bigger story may be in some of the unexpected details

            Unless you've seen more than enough Presidential tweets and are observing a self-imposed news blackout, there's a good chance you've heard the absolutely amazing news that scientists have discovered a colony – make that a supercolony – of 1.5 million Adelie penguins on an island off the Antarctic Peninsula. 

            Until this amazing discovery, the story line for the Adelie penguins, as well as other penguins such as the Emperors, has been pretty grim.

            This discovery, first reported in Nature, suggests that the population of Adelie penguins, previously believed to be declining for the past 40 years, may be in better shape than anyone thought.  It's the kind of feel good story you sometimes hear at the end of the news broadcast – a little bit of sunshine amidst storm clouds.

            The news was completely unexpected.  But somewhat lost in the headlines – and the story itself - are six very interesting, and unexpected, details.  And these unexpected things may actually be the real story.

Unexpected detail #1: there are still unexplored places

         Upon hearing about the discovery of 1.5 million Adelie penguins, your reaction, as well as that of lots of people was, how come nobody ever visited Danger Island and checked on the penguins, especially if their numbers are declining?  The island has been known for a long time so why didn't anyone visit?

            It's a good question, but one pretty easily answered when you consider what the area around the Antarctic Peninsula is like.  Pretty treacherous!  Raging storms and tumultuous seas, even in the comparatively calm Southern Hemisphere summertime.  That's true for every part of the Antarctic Peninsula, but some places are particularly challenging.  Danger Island really deserves its name.  Taking a ship apparently is particularly difficult.

            Then there is the question of getting funding to go and study the penguins.  Research dollars are limited … and apparently until now, studying the Danger Island penguins simply hasn't been a high enough priority.

Unexpected detail #2: East Antarctic ice growing

            As previously mentioned, all of the available evidence gathered on Adelie Penguins for some 40 years showed the population declining.  One of the key reasons cited for the decline – as well as the declines in other species - was the shrinkage of the West Antarctic ice sheet.  The increase in temperatures, a byproduct of global climate change, has been cited as the culprit.  What has largely been overlooked as that while the West Antarctic ice sheet has shrunk a good deal over that time, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has grown commensurately. 

            So how is it that if global warming is causing ice to melt in West Antarctica, the ice is expanding on the other side of the continent?  Scientists aren't completely sure why the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing … but it has been.

            Some people have argued that the growth in the East Antarctic ice sheet must mean that greenhouse gases aren't really causing global warming.  But other research suggests that the East Antarctic ice sheet has a history of instability and that we should still be concerned - very concerned.   Irrespective of that, Danger Island is in the West Antarctic, so it's smack in the middle of the area where the ice is presently receding … and creating problems for the Adelie penguins.

Unexpected detail #3: Drones and neural networks

         So just how did scientists determine there are 751,527 pairs of Adelie Penguins on Danger Island?  They didn't say, they're roughly 1.5 million penguins, they provided a precise number.   Did someone walk around with a clip board and count them? 

            Not exactly.  How they did it was unexpected … but very interesting.  They did it using drones equipped with cameras. 

            Drones equipped with cameras can generate a huge number of images – literally every square inch of the island, so every Adelie penguin was captured on film by those drones.

            Which leaves the unimaginable task of counting every one of those penguins captured on film. 

            But the expedition scientists utilized an unexpected tool to accomplish the task – neural networks.  Thus, by combining drones and neural networks, it was possible to get a comprehensive count of the the Adelie Penguins on Danger Island

Unexpected detail #4: 1960's data

            So the scientists were able to get a pretty accurate idea of the number of penguins on Danger Island today.  One and a half million Adelie Penguins is a large number … but is it increasing, decreasing or stable over time?  If there were 3.0 million Adelies on the island 50 years ago, scientists would be very concerned, as that would suggest that Adelies are declining there, just as they are in every other previously known habitat for Adelies. 

            Or maybe there were only about one million Adelie penguins on Danger Island in the past, meaning that the population has grown significantly.  The scientists would really have to rethink the situation in that case.

            In fact, the evidence suggests that the Adelie population in the Danger Islands is pretty stable.  The reason scientists know this is because they went back and looked at early satellite imagery from some 50 years ago.  Apparently they found the population density looked comparable to the recently generated images. 

            Satellites have collected huge amounts of data over the past 50 years.  Using some of these new analytical techniques, it may be possible to re-examine old photographic evidence to gain a better understanding of how things are changing.  That concept could be applied all over the world.

Unexpected detail #5: Ray Dalio

            Not only is the research to enumerate the Adelie population important, it's expensive … very expensive! 

            Which brings up the fifth unexpected aspect of the story: it was paid for with a grant from Dalio Philanthropies.   The benefactor of Dalio Philanthropies is Ray Dalio, founder and head of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's foremost hedge funds.  Dalio is a member of the billionaire's club, but he has had the vision to underwrite a great deal of research, particularly of the world's oceans.

Unexpected detail #6: An expansion of marine protection areas

            Another unexpected aspect of this story is that it may help spur expansion of marine protection areas in the Southern Ocean.  Ever since first European explorers found Antarctica, there's been a major push to develop it economically.  The 19th and early 20th centuries saw significant whaling and fishing in the area.  It's also been determined that Antarctica has tremendous reserves of oil and gas, as well as other minerals. 

            But unlike other places, Antarctica's mineral and other reserves have largely gone undeveloped because of the risks to the environment.  That's good, but it still doesn't ensure that wildlife will be preserved. 

            The incredible and unusual beauty of the Antarctic has not gone unnoticed.   Every year, more and more people are visiting, putting increasing pressure on the environment.  Those pressures are one of the reasons given for declining penguin populations in other parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.

            There are already lots of rules and regulations in place to help protect the Antarctic environment.  For example, ships with more than 500 aboard cannot permit passengers to dis-embark and explore the area.  If you want to get up close with the wildlife, you must travel on small ships.

            However, even these extensive, existing marine protections, in short, may be insufficient.  So one of the unexpected benefits of the Danger Island penguin discovery may be to strengthen efforts to create more marine protection areas in the Antarctic.  It may make it more difficult to visit Antarctica, but that may be necessary to protect the environment.

Back to the Expected

            So the discovery of the Danger Island Adelie penguins is both great … and unexpected.  But the unexpected, positive news may still be only temporary, and entirely predictable.  After all, back in 2014 it was predicted that "global populations will actually rise, at least initially, especially in the colonies found on the southernmost Ross Sea. Currently, colonies off the western coast are on the rise thanks to the break-up of large glaciers in the area. But the population increase is only going to be temporary, according to researcher Stephanie Jenouvrier, and colonies will start seeing a decline in numbers starting in 2040. By 2080, the researchers say all 45 colonies will see a decrease and, by 2100, approximately two-third of the 45 colonies currently present will be reduced by 50 percent."  

            Good news today, but the long term message is the same: either climate change is tamed, and temperatures stabilize, or penguins … including Adelie penguins … even the 1.5 previously unknown ones in the Danger Islands … will become casualties.







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Wind power may have a lot more potential than we realize

            "The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind/The answer is blowin' in the wind".  So sang balladeer Bob Dylan, more than 50 years ago, when he first released his milestone record "Blowin' in the Wind". 

            Now the wind that Dylan wrote about could provide a different sort of answer – an important, but seemingly unexpected, role in both reducing greenhouse gases, as well as moving the country towards greater energy independence.

            When it comes to renewable energy, most of the attention seems to go to solar power.  That may be because just about anyone can install a solar panel on his or her rooftop – and more and more people and businesses are doing just that.  On the other hand, it's not just a little harder … IT'S A LOT HARDER … to install a wind turbine on your property.  But based upon the Wind Vision report, wind power could provide up to 35% of total USA electric power by 2050, a mere 32 years from now. 

            But if that's true, it could mean the USA in 2050 would have only about 10 – 15% of its power coming from fossil fuel sources!  Sounds unbelievable, so let me show you how I figured that:

                        #1: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has estimated that 80% of USA  power could be generated by renewables by 2050.

                        #2: But 50% of that 80% would come from solar and wind combined

                        #3: So if the Wind Vision report's estimate of 35% from wind power alone, the NREL estimate of 50% from wind and solar combined is probably underestimated.   In fact, the combined wind and solar should possibly be as much as 60 to 70%.

                       #4: Then if you add in nuclear power – currently about 9% of the total – as well as other sources such as biomass, the non-fossil fuel portion could definitely get up to 85% to 90+%!

            Admittedly, these are projections, subject to lots of variables.  But at the beginning of the 21st century, no one would have predicted the current installed base of wind and solar, as well as the reduction in coal. 

            Solar technology has greatly improved in the past 20 years.  What lots of people don't realize is how much wind has improved, too.  In fact, the cost of wind power generation has decreased by 90% since the 1980's.  It could decrease further, given the newer technology of larger blades, for example.  The newest wind power technology is replacing wind installations done a generation ago.   

            But skeptics will properly note that wind power is presently only about 5% of total electric generation.  How could it possibly grow to 35% in just 32 years – a 700% increase at least?  And at present, it's really economically viable in only 39 states. 

            Let me offer five reasons why:

#1: It's attractive even to climate change skeptics

            Unfortunately, lots of Americans are skeptical about climate change.  I'm still not sure why, but they are.  They simply don't respond to dire warnings about what's already happening to the world's climate, much less what could happen. 

            But the funny thing is, when it comes to solar and wind power, you don't have to believe in climate change to believe that it's a great thing.  To see why that's true for wind power, all you have to do is visit a place like Sweetwater, Texas, smack in the middle of wind power country. 

            Sweetwater is the seat of Nolan County, a rural area that's seen its share of hard times.  Almost three quarters of voters went for Donald Trump in 2016.  Predictably, you won't see lots of people crusading to reduce greenhouse gases – in fact, there's a fair amount of skepticism that the problem even exists.  But even though climate change skepticism pervades the air, you will see lots of state of the art wind farms, and lots of support for wind power.  Huh?

            You see, wind power has had a hugely positive impact on the local economy.  The tax assessor reports that the local tax base a few years ago was only about $ 500 million.  Now it's closer to $ 2.8 billion.  Quintupling the local tax base means a LOT MORE MONEY for governmental services, even if you have a good sized reduction in local tax rates.  The associated rise in local tax receipts has very positively affected local people.

            As you might expect, there's a LOT of support for wind power in Sweetwater and the rest of Nolan County, Texas.  Just don't talk about climate change to the average person, as they may very well be skeptical.  The point is, they may be skeptical of climate change, but they aren't the least bit skeptical about wind power, and the positive impact it's having on the economy.

            A possible lesson?  Liberal and Progressive America, stop preaching the doom and gloom of climate change, but do everything you can to promote the policies that both improve the economy and also reduce greenhouse gases.  Wind power is one of the great ways to do that ... and the place to do it is locally, in places like Sweetwater.

            Which leads to the second lesson.

#2: It offers economic development for rural America

            As I said, people in Sweetwater don't generally give a rip about climate change.  But they love wind power because of the positive impact it's had on the economy.  The same can be said for other rural areas in the country.  Among the benefits?

            Jobs.  Lots of jobs.   To help fill demand for trained wind power technicians, the local community college in Sweetwater, TX has created one and two year programs.  Graduates get good paying jobs, certainly better than what else is available.  The Department of Energy estimates that by 2050, there could be as many as 600,000 jobs in wind power in America.  The second fastest growing job category today in the USA is wind power technician.

            Donald Trump promised that there would be a big increase in coal mining employment in the USA.  So far, coal employment has barely budged.  But even if it did, it probably wouldn't be meaningful because when Trump took office, only a little over 50,000 people in the entire country worked in coal mines. 

            But people in places like Sweetwater like wind power for more than jobs.  For land owners, there are royalties.  A land owner can collect as much as $ 1,000/month for renting space for just one wind mill.  If you own land, lease out enough space for wind turbines and you and your family could have a major change in economic fortune.  Your toughest job might be depositing your monthly royalty check in the bank!

            Not only that, switching to wind power reduces demand for water.  In very dry places like West Texas, reducing demand for water is certainly good. 

            And there could be a lot more Sweetwater's around the USA.  What lot's of people don't realize is that 97% of the USA landmass is in rural counties like Nolan County, Texas. Sixty million people live in these counties.  Many people don't like to look at wind mills, but there are an awful lot of places in rural America that can "hide" wind mills, and as much as 19% of the population could gain benefits the way Sweetwater has.

#3: It can provide lower electric prices

            But there are even more benefits, one of which is lower electric utility prices.  The Wind Vision authors estimate that if wind power is built out as projected by 2050, consumers will save $ 280 billion on their electric utility bills.  Even the most diehard skeptic of climate change isn't going to turn down those savings!  South Dakota reportedly already generates more than 30% of its power from wind.  The switch to wind has dramatically reduced electric bills – more than a billion dollar reduction.

#4: The Chinese don't dominate the industry

         One of the things that concerns people about solar is Chinese dominance in the industry.  The Chinese are involved in wind power, but they do not dominate the industry.  In fact, of the top ten wind power suppliers, only three are Chinese.  Three are German.  The world leader – a company called Vestas – is Danish.  The USA is represented in the top 10 by General Electric.

#5: It can reduce greenhouse gases in a quiet way

         So there's a lot to like about wind power, AND there's still that other benefit – it reduces greenhouse gas.  Getting wind turbines to generate 35% of USA electric power by 2050 will have a hugely positive benefit on greenhouse gas emissions.  For those of us who believe greenhouse gas emissions are a huge problem, that's a fantastic future headline.  For climate skeptics, there's still the benefit of jobs, cheaper power, reduction in water use, economic growth, and royalty checks.

            For people who love coal, unfortunately, it's likely "still a lump of coal in the Christmas stocking".

Moving Forward

            Is wind power a panacea?  Absolutely not!  And there's no assurance we'll achieve the target of generating 35% of power from wind by 2050.  But the technology is now available.  And the case has been made that a high percentage of power can come from wind.  In fact, as previously mentioned, South Dakota already generates some 30% of its power from wind, and the lights aren't flickering.  The other 49 states should take notice.

            More importantly, the economics point to a bright future.

            But possibly the most important thing to consider is that there is a large group of people who, at least accordingly to the conventional wisdom, shouldn't believe in wind power.  Except that they don't just accept it, THEY LOVE IT! 

            Which again makes the point that people make decisions for their reasons, not yours or mine.  They may be climate change skeptics … and we may NEVER change their minds on that … but they can be persuaded to do things you'd never expect they would, if only we present a case that they perceive is compelling – for their reasons, not ours.  The lesson?  Show climate change skeptics how they personally can benefit from things like wind and solar power and SHUT UP ABOUT HOW THE WEATHER IS CHANGING!

            So Bob Dylan was right, if for a different reason: "The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind/The answer is blowin' in the wind."










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Big Oil companies face an uncertain future, including a possible slow motion train wreck. They should pay attention to Intel.


            You've probably heard the old fable about the frog.  If you throw the frog into boiling water, he'll immediately jump out.  Conversely, according to the fable, if you put the frog in water at a temperature the frog likes, then slowly … very slowly … raise the temperature, the frog won't jump out.  In fact, the frog will die, because the slowly rising water temperature will make the frog lethargic, eventually so lethargic that he won't have the energy to jump out.

            Some biologists say it's truly just a legend, as all frogs would jump out before it's too late, but let's assume the frog really will stay until it's too late.

            The frog fable provides a great metaphor for change in business.  Obviously, the energy industry is changing.  And thanks to global warming, the water is definitely getting warmer.  The question is, can the leading players (frogs) in today's carbon-centric energy industry adapt to the emerging new world of warming/boiling water?

            Maybe … maybe not.

How One Company Jumped Out of the Water in Time

            History tells us that big corporations can sometimes make the change.  Probably the most famous example of this is Intel, the computer chip company.  There's a very good chance the device you're using to read this post is powered by a chip made by Intel.

            But Intel prospers today by selling a very different product than when it was founded.  In 1968, Gordon Moore … the same guy who formulated Moore's Law … and Robert Noyce left Fairchild Semiconductor to found Intel.  The company's original product was memory chips.  They were joined by a fellow named Andy Grove, also a veteran of Fairchild.

            Intel rode the computer boom of the 70's and early 80's, becoming the leading purveyor of memory chips.  Everything was going great until the company was suddenly undercut by cheap Japanese imports.  You probably haven't thought about "cheap Japanese imports" for a very long time, but it was a big deal in the early 1980's.

            Intel went from making lots of money to hemorrhaging.  Being a highly innovative company, the conventional wisdom said the company could out-innovate the Japanese and regain its profitable lead.  Maybe.

            Which was the prelude to a famous conversation between Gordon Moore, Intel CEO, and Andy Grove, his trusted deputy.  Grove reportedly posed the following question to Moore: "If we get kicked out and the board of directors brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do."  Moore reportedly responded, "he would get us out of making memory chips."  Grove's famous question in reply was, "why shouldn't you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?"

            In fact, that's what they did.  I don't know if Moore and Grove literally walked out of the office and then back in, but Intel got out of the money-losing memory chip business and re-focused entirely on the emerging business of processors.  You know, the "Intel Inside" devices in your computer.  Intel is the world's leader in that business today.  Memory chips are just that … a memory.

            The story of Intel's transition is famous, probably because it is a rare success.  Most of the time, big incumbents don't do transitions very well.

            Microsoft blew the opportunity of producing a mobile phone. 

`           Big retailers have missed the opportunity to be Amazon before Amazon did it.

Can Big Oil Repeat the Story?

            You can make the argument that today's major oil companies are in a somewhat similar situation.  They dominate their current businesses, but planners in those companies can see a world of "Peak Oil" (meaning peak demand for oil) and renewables rapidly approaching. 

            Now the situations are a little different.  Intel was losing money, and Big Oil definitely isn't losing money.  Perhaps it would be better if they were losing money.  The force of inertia may be compelling.  Yes, renewables may be coming, but they're still a long way off, so to speak, and Big Oil continues to make lots of money.

            So Big Oil is hedging its bets by making some investments in renewables.  Royal Dutch Shell is now investing about $ 1 billion a year in renewables, a very big number … until you consider that the company spends $ 25 billion/year in total capital spending.  Shell has purchased a company that recharges electric vehicles.  Like much of Big Oil, Shell has a huge retail distribution network, so adding electric charging is a natural.  Plus, they've got convenience store outlets on site.  Do your grocery shopping while you recharge your car.


            Total, the French oil major, has probably invested the most.  For example, they've purchased two thirds of solar solutions provider Sun Power, as well as a battery company called Saft. 

            Other oil majors have also made investments, but so far, no one has "bet the farm" the way Intel did.  The water just isn't hot enough yet.

Why Automakers Should Be Able to Jump Out in Time

            There's another industry that could face the same problem, but they'll likely be more successful … automobile manufacturers.

            The world's top auto manufacturers already can see the emergence of electric vehicles.  They even have new competitors, principally Tesla.  But the auto manufacturers will probably make the transition successfully because gas powered engines are only a part of each automobile.  While the engines are changing, the rest of the typical vehicle isn't.  Not only that, the process of distributing and financing vehicles isn't likely to change.

            The big automakers are already adapting to an electric world, and probably should do well.

Creating a Better Strategy for Big Oil

            So imagine you're a member of the board of directors of a major oil company.   You can see that the world is moving towards renewables and away from the carbon-emitting products your company products.  Not only that, you can see that the long term economics will likely favor renewables.  Which means you can foresee a slow motion train wreck.  Your situation is a little different from the one faced by Gordon Moore and Andy Grove at Intel.  What should you do?

            I think you should do three things.

            #1: Assume the train wreck is going to happen

            Start off by assuming that renewables are going to displace oil and gas as the primary fuel source in the future.  Not next week … not next year … but in the not too distant future.  If you assume that's going to happen, you'll redirect an ever larger portion of the capital budget to alternative investments.

            Now it's unclear which new technology, and which companies, will prevail.  Given that, Big Oil should then take a page out of the Silicon Valley playbook. 

            #2: Take a portfolio approach to investing in future technology

         Venture capitalists, and angel investors like me, would like to think we know what tomorrow's top companies will be.  But if we think we do, we're fooling ourselves.  We don't know.  Because we don't, we take a "portfolio approach" to investing.  The idea is to create a portfolio of emerging companies.  Experts say the portfolio should include anywhere from 20 to 30 ventures.  The rule of thumb is that for every 10 ventures in which you invest, expect 5 to be complete failures, a couple to return your investment capital and possible a small return, and one or two to be big winners.

            The one or two big winners will provide a fantastic overall return to the portfolio.

            So the typical Big Oil company should probably create a portfolio of alternative energy investments.  Half will probably be complete washouts.  But if the investment strategy is sound, at least one of the investments will be the Facebook or Amazon on alternative energy.

            #3: Operate the new businesses totally apart from the core business

         Big Oil can easily make these investments out of existing cash flow.  They can certainly provide a good rationale to their investors.  I have a feeling the investors will applaud the decision.

            But there's one other thing they need to do, and it's the one thing that may be the very hardest of all: operate these businesses completely independently of the Big Oil veterans.

            Don't let anyone associated with the Big Oil part of the business anywhere near the venture portfolio.  The reason isn't because the Big Oil people aren't good managers.  They most certainly are.  The problem is that they are very good managers in the business they know – Big Oil - so they will almost invariably bring a Big Oil mindset to these new businesses.  Those mindsets could kill the investments.

            The Board of Directors should put the venture portfolio completely apart.  In fact, they might even hire one of the top Silicon Valley firms to run the portfolio for them.  The venture firm would then report directly to the Board of Directors.  No connection with the CEO of the Big Oil firm.  So two people would report to the Big Oil Company Board of Directors: the Big Oil CEO and the head of the new venture portfolio.

Taking a Page Out of the CIA Playbook

            The strategy is not without precedent.  The Central Intelligence Agency has its own venture capital operation, called InQTel.  IQT's portfolio includes more than 200 venture investments. Needless to say, the venture companies aren't being run by the spooks in Langley, at least not directly.  At the same time, if any of those 200+ companies produces a major breakthrough, someone in Langley will likely be paying attention.

            Admittedly, a very unusual strategy.  But Big Oil faces a very unusual situation.  It can see a slow motion train wreck getting ready to happen.  It knows the story of Intel.  It also knows what tends to happen to innovation strategies that are managed by company veterans who come from the traditional side of the business.  

            Big Oil has a challenging future, but it still could be a great one, even in the future world dominated by renewable energy.  So, fable or not, the water is literally getting warmer.  Will the frog absorb the lesson and jump in time?



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Geneticists Have Provided Unexpected News About What Northern Europeans May Have Looked Like

            We all make assumptions about how things are, and why they are as they are.  We also sometimes have to eat our words. 

            A great example of that occurred this past week with the announcement that the DNA of "Cheddar Man" had been sequenced.  "Cheddar Man" is a 10,000 year old near complete skeleton of a man, found in a cave in 1903 in Somerset County in England.  He was about 166 centimeters tall (5 foot 5 and ½ inches) and likely was in his 20's at the time of death.  Cheddar Man lived during what's called the Mesolithic Era, often referred to as the middle stone age. 

            What drew most everyone's attention wasn't the fact that the skeleton's DNA had been sequenced, an absolutely amazing feat in itself.  Instead, it was the announcement that the DNA showed he was dark skinned and likely had blue eyes!  That will upend a whole lot of things we've assumed about people who lived in Europe in the Stone Age.

            Other evidence suggests that humans first appeared in Europe about 45,000 years ago.  If Cheddar Man was dark skinned, that means humans lived in northern Europe with dark skin for more than 35,000 years before their skin pigment changed. 

            That in itself likely upends the long held assumption that the reason northern Europeans had lighter skin and eye color was as an adaptation to higher latitudes and the lack of sunlight.  Less sunlight meant that humans were less able to absorb Vitamin D, so skin color adapted over the generations.  But the latest evidence now suggests that skin color didn't really change until about 6,000 years ago.

            Which means those of us who are Caucasian really are "the new kids on the block"; and we managed to survive quite nicely in Europe for an awfully long time with dark skins.

            So just how did the scientists manage to do an entire genetic sequence on a 10,000 year old skeleton, and how did they reach the conclusion about dark skin and blue eyes? 

            Upon death, DNA begins to break down.  You'd think it would have been entirely broken down after 10,000 years.  The big break for the geneticists is the fact that Cheddar Man was preserved in a cave.  Caves tend to provide the right conditions that could help preserve DNA.

            But as previously noted, the skeleton was discovered in 1903, so those advantageous cave conditions ended 115 years ago, more than enough time to cause the DNA to degrade, erasing 10,000 years of preservation.  Obviously, the British scientists at the Natural History Museum of London who have been caring for the skeleton over the past century deserve a lot of credit for the fact the DNA survived since 1903.

            Cheddar Man's mitochondrial DNA was first tested in 1996 by Dr. Brian Sykes.  Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from one's mother.  While that was just over 20 years ago, it's a veritable millennium ago in terms of knowledge about DNA.  In between, the entire human genome was first sequenced.  Sykes, a professor at Oxford University, reportedly obtained the mitochondrial DNA from a molar in Cheddar Man's mouth.  His data suggested that Cheddar Man's maternal DNA came from Haplogroup U5.   Those with such DNA share it with other ancient humans who lived in Europe.

            The latest DNA on Cheddar Man was far more sophisticated than what Sykes did in 1996.  The basic technology used is called shotgun sequencing.   One of the researchers involved with Cheddar Man was Dr. Selina Brace, a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum of London.  Dr. Brace explained  the process used to obtain Cheddar Man's DNA for the full sequencing: "To extract ancient DNA from a human or animal what you're looking for is a dense bone which might have protected the DNA inside it as much as possible.

"We used to use leg bones or teeth as the thick bones and enamel keep DNA quite intact, but in the last two years we've shifted to using the petrous, or inner ear bone, which is the densest bone in the human body ... However it isn't a golden egg. You can still fail to retrieve useful DNA. But if the body was deposited in a good environment, where there was a cool and constant temperature then the petrous bone is a good place to find useful ancient DNA."

            A lot of useful DNA.  But let's get the main question: just how do the researchers know that Cheddar Man had blue eyes and dark skin?  After all, all they have is a skeleton.  No flesh.  No cave paintings.  Certainly no family photos. 

            Let's first consider Cheddar Man's eye color.  You may remember Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk from the 19th century who conducted a bunch of experiments with peas.  He's the guy who first developed the concept of genetics, including the concept of dominant and recessive genes. 

            Like me, you probably learned that brown eyes are dominant and blue eyes recessive.  It's an idea based upon the assumption that eye color is controlled by a single gene.

            Well, it's another idea that has gone out the window.  In fact, geneticists have determined that eye color is "polygenic", meaning that it is determined not by a single gene but by multiple genes.  Among the genes controlling eye color are OCA2 and HERC2, both located on chromosome 15 (note: humans have 23 pairs of genes); SLC24A4, TYR, and IRF4, all located on chromosome 7; and SLC45A2, located on chromosome 5. 

            So if there isn't a single gene that causes one to have brown, blue, green or grey eye colors, what causes it?  Eye color is actually a function of melanin at the back of the retina.  It's composed of a number of different shades.  The combination of shades for each person creates distinctive colors for each of us.  We simply tend to lump those shades into a handful of colors. 

            If you know what the different SNP's (single nucleotide polymorphisms) are you can infer the person's actual eye color.  In fact, what geneticists have done is to take the actual data for a lot of people, compare it to each person's actual eye color, then figure out a way to predict color based upon the genetic data.  They did this using a multinomial regression model.

            What the geneticists have determined is that with the six sets of SNP's mentioned above, they can predict eye color to the following level of accuracy:

            Brown eyes:                            93%

            Blue eyes:                               91%

            Intermediate eye colors:          72%

So based upon the SNP's they found in Cheddar Man's genetic profile, they are about 91% certain that he had blue eyes.  Not guaranteed, but very likely.

            But why would blue eyes have become a fairly common trait in places like northern Europe?  An intriguing theory relates to "the winter blues".  Several studies have linked lighter eye color to the ability to overcome seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a major depressive illness. As Dr. Richard Sturm suggested "perhaps those with blue eyes may have been able to withstand the dark, depressing days of the Neolithic European winters better than those with brown eye color?"

            So being able to determine Cheddar Man's eye color is interesting, but not many people think the fact that he likely had blue eyes is a big deal.  After all, Cheddar Man lived in northern Europe.

            Having dark skin in northern Europe is a big deal!  So let's consider how the geneticists figured that one out.

            Like eye color, skin color is a polygenic trait, meaning there isn't a single gene controlling skin color.  In fact, according to the GB Healthwatch, there are a total of 378 genetic loci involved in determining skin color in humans and mice.  

            So based upon the latest research, humans lived in northern Europe for over 35,000 years with dark skin.  Why then would skin have changed color? 

            It's well known that lighter skin absorbs Vitamin D better than dark skin.  It's all been determined that Cheddar Man and his contemporaries were likely lactose intolerant, so they weren't getting needed Vitamin D from the family cow.  An alternative theory is that they were getting it from sources such as oily fish. 

            If Cheddar Man and his contemporaries were getting adequate Vitamin D from a food source, it could explain why they survived at least 35,000 years in a high latitude, low sunlight environment and not have a Vitamin D deficiency.

            So if that's the case, why do people like me, a descendent of northern Europeans, have light skin today?  What changed?  Certainly not the angle of the sun?   Not only that, if sunlight was the underlying factor, then why don't Inuit people in Canada and Alaska look like Norweigians?

            There are a number of theories.  One possible theory is the switch to farming.  Remember, Cheddar Man was a hunter gatherer, not a farmer.  Once his descendants settled down and started farming, people may have relied less on sources of Vitamin D such as oily fish.  And Vitamin D deficiencies probably began appearing, as well as the associated genetic response.

            Not proven, but there's the suggestion that a lifestyle change actually was the cause for fair skin to emerge.

            So once again, Cheddar Man has changed our understanding of who we humans are, and from where we came, in a very unexpected way.  And the story continues to unfold.


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A new initiative seeks to sequence the genomes of some 1.5 million species within the next 10 years. It's an audacious goal, but increasingly realistic given three technologies, including blockchain.

            My wife likes to say that the cure for cancer is buried somewhere in the Amazon rainforest.  Scientists just have to locate it and develop it.

            I don't know about the cure for cancer, but I do know that from the venom of certain snakes in the Amazon has come the key ingredients for ACE inhibitors, a life-saving cardiac drug used around the world.  At the same time, Amazonian rainforest trees have given us rubber, something that's benefitted people worldwide.  Unfortunately, the people of the Amazon have received precious little benefit from either discovery.  It's all accrued to others.

            Hoping to prevent the misappropriation of Amazonian biological assets in the future is Juan Carlos Castilla Rubio, a Brazilian entrepreneur.  Rubio is personally try to reverse the long term destruction of the Amazonian rainforest by getting everyone refocused away from logging and moving towards seeking innovation.  He's confident that drawing upon the past experience of ACE inhibitors and rubber – making sure that Brazilians benefit from any innovation that comes from the rainforest – is key.  The question, how?

            Doubtless, you've heard of the Human Genome Project, initially completed about 12 years ago.  For the first time, the 23 pairs of chromosomes of a human were catalogued.  Since then, millions of humans have had their DNA analyzed, and scientists have decoded the genomes of about 2,500 other species. 

            Several months ago scientists launched what's called the Earth Biogenome Project, the goal of which is to sequence all of the genomes of the 1.5 million Eukaryotic animals/organisms known.  Eukaryotes are organisms whose cells have nuclei.  Organizers announced the audacious goal of analyzing the genomes of about 1.5 million species within 10 years!

            At the recent World Economic Forum, there were announcements about trying to link both the Amazonian effort with the Earth Biogenome Project.  No question, there's some very BIG THINKING going on!  The question is, could it really happen, or is this just another case of creating a gigantic "wish list"? 

            The good news: I think it could really happen.  A confluence of technologies may make things like ACE inhibitors from snake venom in the Amazon an everyday occurrence, and catapult technology in a dramatic fashion.  Three technologies are likely to make this audacious goal possible: genome sequencing; open source data warehouses; and blockchain smart contracts.  Let's take a look at how all three might be brought together to propel technological change.

            There's a good reason the genomes of only about 2,500 species have been sequenced so far: cost.  But the cost is dropping at Moore's Law rates.  Anyone who has had companies such as 23andme sequence their personal genome know how much less it costs today than just a few years ago.

            Besides cost reduction, the sequencers are becoming portable.  Various companies are developing handheld gene sequencers to take into the field.  Oxford Nanopore, a British company, currently sells its MinIon handheld device and promises that sequencing can be done for under $1,000.  The goal is to get it down to $ 100.  So it may soon be possible to deploy armies of field researchers armed with $ 100 handheld sequencers.

            Getting the cost down is certainly important, but making the sequencers portable is probably the more significant development.  That's because one of the big challenges to gene sequencing is transporting samples.  In many cases, countries are loathe to let samples be taken from natural habitats.  After all, everybody already knows that most countries take a very dim view of eco-tourists taking samples home.  With handheld devices, however, there's the possibility that fieldworkers can take handheld sequencing devices out and take genetic samples without disturbing the habitat.  It will still be a huge challenge to sequence the genomes of every Eukaryotic species, but much more feasible if samples can be taken in the field.

            The second key element is open source data warehouses.  Increasingly, open source data warehouses are being developed to encourage collaboration amongst different parties.  I have my own experience with this in a different domain- I'm an investor in a company called ServingLynk, which develops open source software and operates a data warehouse to track homelessness, and other human service issues, around the USA.  Open source is especially beneficial in this field because it encourages different parties to collaborate.  The key is to have one party host the data warehouse and ensure data integrity and security.  Open source data tools are made available to all, giving everyone the opportunity to contribute additional code that will increase functionality and useability.  If that's done, the solution can be far better than the traditional approach.  Government entities with incompatible databases and systems can still share data fairly easily given open source databases and good API's.

            So how do you apply that in this case?  For users of the ServingLynk software, mobile apps are available that permit most anyone to gather data on a homeless person, then upload the data securely into the data warehouse.  Because the databases include highly personal data, each entity that contributes data to the warehouse is free to keep data as private or open as desired.  Highly sensitive data are kept confidential, but other data are made available to increase functionality.

            So envision a giant open source data warehouse of genetic genomic sequences?  Users can utilize products such as Nanopore's handheld device, gather genetic data in the field, then upload the data into the database.  This solves a huge problem of countries keeping control of their biological heritage.  They don't want experts coming and taking species from the field.  Instead, data can be gathered unobtrusively in the field and entered into the database.

            The other key problem is keeping control of the genetic patrimony.  So let's go back to the Amazon rainforest case.  Recall that two great technological innovations that came of out the Amazon rainforest were rubber trees and ACE inhibitors.  The problem with these two innovations is that the local economy never fully benefitted from this.  Instead, scientists came into the Amazon, made discoveries that made companies lots of money, but very little of that money was ever shared with the local economy.

            The third element provides a potential solution to the problem.  That is to utilized blockchain "smart contracts".    Doubtless, you're aware of Bitcoin and Ethereum, two implementations of blockchain technology.  Bitcoin certainly has a checkered reputation as a currency. 

            So just what is a "smart contract"?  Here's one definition: Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller being directly written into lines of code. The code and the agreements contained therein exist across a distributed, decentralized blockchain network. Smart contracts permit trusted transactions and agreements to be carried out among disparate, anonymous parties without the need for a central authority, legal system, or external enforcement mechanism. They render transactions traceable, transparent, and irreversible.

           In this case, blockchain will be implemented for a non-financial purpose.  Here's the idea.  Each time someone wants to utilize the genetic sequence of a particular eukaryote, a blockchain smart contract could be created.  Given the way blockchain works, it would not be very easy to take genetic information from a particular country and exploit it without everyone else knowing.  Thus, the blockchain would record how a particular researcher, or company, wishes to utilize the genetic information.  If it is fortunate enough to develop something every useful, everyone will know.  The truth can't easily be hidden.

            A majority countries in the world – 104 at last count, but not including the United States – have entered into what's called the Nagoya Protocol.  The purpose of this is to protect the biological patrimony of signatory countries from being exploited.  This should prevent large companies from repeating the exploitation of snake venom from the Amazon to create ACE inhibitors.  At least if there is a technological innovation, the Nagoya Protocol provides a way for the host country to benefit.

            Applying blockchain smart contracts will make this much easier to do.   Here's a possible way.  If a Nanopore genetic sequencer is used on a previously un-catalogued species, there could be a requirement to add the genetic sequence to the open source database.  Moreover, a smart contract could be appended to this, providing what limits are placed on the use of the genetic data.  The blockchain will ensure everyone knows about this.  Thus, any time a party wants to exploit the genetic data, the smart contract provisions will come into play.

Will this be a panacea?  Absolutely not!  The lions are not going to lie down with lambs on this one.  However, it will be easier to manage this with the three components of handheld sequencers, open source databases, and blockchain smart contracts.

            As previously mentioned, the goal is to complete sequencing on all 1.5 million Eukaryotic organisms within 10 years.  The estimated cost is at least $ 4.7 billion dollars to sequence all of the estimated 1.5 million non-human Eukaryotes.  A huge amount of money, but remember that when the Human Genome Project was undertaken, the cost and timeline were projected to be far greater than what turned out to be the case.  Technological innovation certainly explains a lot of that. 

            Making the entire process more transparent should also help.  Just creating the database should help spur research and create unexpected opportunities.  Making it open source, creating low cost tools to sequence data, and enabling blockchain smart contracts should make it just that much more powerful.

            Sequencing the entire human genome has already yielded incredible scientific benefits.  Doing the same for all 1.5 million Eukaryotic organisms will likely produce almost unimaginable benefits.  Getting there will be a challenge, but potentially a very manageable one with open source software and data warehouse, handheld genetic sequencers, and "smart contract" blockchains.   And we may find ourselves just that much closer to finding the cure to cancer in some plant in the Amazon ... and realizing the dream of Juan Carlos Castilla Rubio: the local people benefitting in a way they never have before.



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What Could the Immigration Debate and Groundhog Day Have in Common? A lot!

            If you're like me, you're getting REALLY tired of the endless immigration debate.  Given that Groundhog Day (February 2nd) occurs this week, I couldn't help but think of Bill Murray's classic "Groundhog Day" movie which, incidentally, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

            The more I thought about it, the more I realized, "Groundhog Day" has some relevance to the immigration debate.  In the movie Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a cynical TV weatherman from Pittsburgh, asked by his station to cover Groundhog Day – AGAIN.  It's the fourth time!  He covers the event in a very half-hearted manner for his TV station.  A big snowstorm occurs and Murray, along with his TV producer and cameraman, get stuck in Punxsatawney, PA, home of the groundhog.  Then Groundhog Day repeats itself, over and over again.  No matter what Murray's character does, the day repeats itself.

            While it's a movie, it almost sounds like Congress and the President with the immigration debate.  Instead of waking up every morning to find it's still February 2nd, we wake up every few weeks to find the government on the verge of a shutdown; endless accusations and finger-pointing; and STILL ZERO RESOLUTION OF EITHER THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE OR THE BUDGET!

            Finally, Murray's character wakes up and it's February 3rd – no longer Groundhog Day.  He's a changed man: his behavior, his way of treating others, and his outlook on life, all have changed – for the better.

            So what lessons of "Groundhog Day" the movie might be applied to the immigration debate?  A key thing Phil Connors – Murray's character – does is to change his attitude about the people of the town.  The message in this for Republicans and Democrats?  How about, let's reframe the immigration debate?  Maybe drop the following narratives?

Democrats: all the Republicans want to do is build a stupid wall; and deport a bunch of innocent kids brought illegally by their parents to the USA (the Dreamers)

Republicans: all the Democrats want to do is reward a bunch of illegal aliens who broke the law.

            In the course of the movie, Phil Connors changes his mind about the townspeople, going from thinking of them as a bunch of hicks to realizing they're good people … and people he'd like to be his friends.  As the movie unwinds, he learns new things – such as how to speak French and play jazz piano – and how to become a friendly, likeable guy.

            A classic way that entrepreneurs try to solve tough problems is to re-frame them.  Maybe by changing the questions.  That's the general approach of my blog, "The Unexpected Perspective".  The idea is to take thorny, intractable problems and re-frame them.            

            One has been to reframe the debate about global warming and climate change.  Instead of berating conservatives for being skeptical about climate change, "The Unexpected Perspective" says, liberals should encourage conservatives to invest in climate changing technology because of the money-making potential.  Instead of calling conservatives stupid, show them how they could benefit by re-thinking the issue.  Conservatives can still say that climate change isn't real, but do the things that liberals believe will produce desired change.

            So how can the same thinking be applied to the immigration debate?  By having everyone – Republicans and Democrats - asking the following "re-framing" question:

Could there be something in the other side's position on immigration that would benefit my side?

            Let's try this out.  If you're a Democrat, here's a possible answer:

            The Republicans say they want a wall, but if you cut through the rhetoric, what they really want is a secure border.  A wall is a means to an end.  Which then leads to a follow-on question: is there a way to create a secure border without spending a huge amount of money building an ugly physical wall?

            Now for the Republicans.  They might re-frame the problem as follows.  The Democrats seem to want to reward illegal behavior and flood the country with illegal aliens.  Could we as a country actually benefit by keeping most of these illegal entrantsWhat would have to happen for it to be a blessing that we have eleven million illegal immigrants in the country?

            The average reader already has a decided "position" on this, one way or the other, so reading these questions might be a little jarring.  But remember Phil Connors, the TV weatherman, on the first couple of "Groundhog Days" he spent in the movie?  Pretty angry, pretty cynical, pretty stuck in his "position".

            So let's explore the questions I've posed, starting with the questions that might make Democrats pretty uneasy.

            Is there a way to give the Republicans what they say they want - a secure border - without spending a huge amount of money creating an ugly physical wall?

            The answer is "YES".  The simplest way is to apply technology to the problem.  Some people have said, Trump's wall is a "14th century answer to a 21st century problem."  I'd turn that around and ask instead, "how do you create a 21st century solution to a 14th century problem?"  The "14th century problem" is how to prevent people from crossing the border you don't want them to cross.  The Chinese produced the perfect 14th century solution to that problem – a 1,000+ mile wall – portions of which you can still walk on today. 

            So what's a "21st century solution"?  How about technology?  Use technology to create a "technological wall" that limits access.  You end up with the barrier to entry you want, just without a wall that is both unsightly and an environmental nightmare.

            Put Silicon Valley to work on the problem.  They'll come up with some great technological solutions.

            The other reason to emphasize technology is because it can pay for itself over and over.  Building a physical wall is a "one off".  Unlike other infrastructure, a physical wall doesn't provide an economic return other than as a result of the initial expenditure.  In contrast, other infrastructure such as highways, bridges, airports, and communications infrastructure produce continuous economic benefits. 

            Developing new security technology that impedes entry across a border can provide ongoing economic benefits, much like traditional infrastructure. 

            Is such technology available?  ABSOLUTELY!  Drones, infrared scanning, license plate readers … all kinds of stuff.  And more technology is created all the time.

            One of the most effective ways that government can encourage economic development is through funding of basic research.  The Internet – and lots of other technology today – is the result of Federal government funding of research for military, space, energy, and other applications.  Why not border security?

            Why not create incentives for Silicon Valley?  How about increasing the number of H1B visas if Silicon Valley can create better border security technology?

            Now let's consider the re-framing question(s) from the Republican side.

            Could we as a country actually benefit by keeping most of these illegal entrantsWhat would have to happen for it to be a blessing that we have eleven million illegal immigrants in the country?

            Again, the answer is "YES".  Here's how it could work.  We could create a pathway to citizenship for most of these people.  Yes, these people broke the law by illegal entry, so there should be some type of penalty for that, but such penalties can be assessed, most likely in the form of fines. We could require these people to do any number of things to earn citizenship, just like others.  One, of course, is to require everyone to try to learn to speak English.  For those who don't want to do those things, or who we deem to be dangerous criminals, we can require them to leave.

            But the key "re-framing" for Republicans is the idea that the eleven million or so illegals in the country actually could be a blessing.  What would that take?

            Turning a lot of people into taxpayers would certainly be a blessing. 

            Lots of illegals are exploited and abused, simply because the abusers and exploiters know the illegals can't easily complain.  Stopping much of that would be a blessing.

            Simply getting the immigration issue "off the table" would be a blessing!  Get on to something else.

            By getting each side to re-frame the problem, a route to a solution becomes readily apparent:

            Republicans can get the border security they want, without wasting a lot of resources on an ugly wall, simply by creating a "21st century solution to a 14th century problem."

            Democrats can get a pathway to citizenship for a huge number of people presently in the country illegally.

            Phil Connors, Bill Murray's TV weatherman character, finally gets what he wants: the sun rising on February 3rd … and the relationship with Rita, the TV producer he's been pursuing throughout the movie. 

            And if Republicans and Democrats pull a few pages out of the "Groundhog Day" script, maybe we too can get to "February 3rd of the immigration debate": a comprehensive solution that provides Republicans the security they want, and Democrats a path to legalization for the vast majority of people living in the shadows.

            Happy Groundhog Day!




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LIthium ion batteries provide a way to provide electricity from solar power at midnight. Now there may be an even better way.

            The price of solar power keeps going down.  Increasingly, it looks like a great solution to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 

            And thanks to lithium ion battery technology from Tesla, it's even possible to generate electricity from solar power after midnight. Lithium ion battery technology has dramatically increased the potential for solar power.

            But there now may be an even better solution: concentrated solar power (CSP) with molten salt storage.  While not likely, this may even begin to keep Elon Musk awake at night. 

            So just what is CSP with molten salt storage?  The idea is to generate a great deal of heat via a solar farm.  However, instead of converting the solar radiation into electricity, the solar heat is stored in a molten salt solution.  At the appropriate time, the molten salt is converted into electricity.  This is possible through the use of a concentrated solar plant.  What's that?

            In a typical solar farm, arrays of photovoltaic cells capture sunlight and transform the light into electricity.  In a CSP plant, a large array of mirrors track the Sun, then reflect sunlight directly onto a tower.   The concentrated sunlight heats molten salt in a giant insulated tank to 1050 degrees Fahrenheit (566 degrees Celsius).  In one of the plants in Nevada where this technology is in use, the tank can hold up to 3.6 million gallons.  To put that in perspective, that's the equivalent of about 6 Olympic sized swimming pools, each 50 meters length (164 feet).

            The heat in the tank can be stored very efficiently.  In fact, it's reported that there is only 1 degree Fahrenheit loss/day, about 98% thermal efficiency.  At such a high temperature, the molten salt flows like water.  When it's time to generate electricity, the molten salt then can be converted to electricity.  Thus, the power of the Sun generates the heat that is then converted into electricity at night.  It can also be converted to provide power during the day when there is peak demand for electricity.  To give you an idea of how such a system works, click here

            The Crescent Dunes plant utilizes what is called a "power tower".  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that a power tower will be able to produce electricity at 5.4 cents/KWH, and a parabolic trough, an alternative design, will be able to produce at 6.2 cents/KWH by 2020.  These are clearly highly competitive rates.

            Several such plants have been constructed in Nevada, California, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.  The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility, located in Nevada between Reno and Las Vegas, is rated at 110 Megawatts.  It can generate power for 10 hours without recharging, producing 1,100 megawatt hours of power.  That's 10 times what batteries can produce at this time.  And that's what might keep Elon Musk awake at night.

            The technology for concentrated solar power has been around since the 1980's.  The first plant was built in the 1990's.  Construction on Crescent Dunes in Nevada began in 2011 and was completed in 2015.  "All in" cost of the plant is about 1 billion dollars, so it certainly isn't inexpensive.  However, for example, the cost to construct a new nuclear unit is estimated to be $ 9 billion.  The plant will generate more power, but the capital cost/MW of capacity won't be much different. 

            Of course, the solar plant will be far safer.  Accidentally spill some of the molten salt in this system and the cleanup will be minimal.  Do the same at a nuclear facility and it will be a scene reminiscent of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. 

            Interestingly, the technology was first developed using funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.  It represents an excellent example of how government can play such a critical role.  The best role, however, is to fund basic research.

            SolarReserve, the company that built Crescent Dunes, wants to build ten more comparable plants in the Nevada desert.  These plants will have a combined capacity of  2,000 MW and generate 7 million Mwh/year. 

            Sounds like a very promising technology, especially given the low costs to produce electricity, not to mention the highly favorable environmental impact.  Coal plants can't possibly compete at these prices.  So what could limit the acceptance of such plants?

            Four key factors tend to work against some of these types of plants: 1) capital cost; 2) aesthetics; 3) land use; and 4) high tension power lines.  Capital cost is clearly high, but that's offset by low operating costs.  Aesthetics clearly work in favor of these types of plants. 

            Land use probably also works in favor of these types of plants.  Consider just the deployment of such plants on Federal lands, certainly a hot button topic.  In 2010 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Federal agency that controls a large part of the US West, approved nine large solar projects.  The "footprint" of these nine solar plants was about 40,000 acres.  That represents a square of 8 miles on each side (i.e., about 64 square miles).  By contrast, during the same year, the BLM issued 1,308 oil and gas leases that had a cumulative footprint of 3.2 million acres – 80 times as large a footprint!  In other words, the "footprint" of solar on Federal lands is far, far less than that of oil and gas.  That will likely be the case for CSP plants put on private land.

            High tension lines are another byproduct of such solar projects.  No one considers them particularly attractive - except maybe power engineers and utility executives – but one finds them all over the country.  Such high tension lines are needed for all types of power plants.  

            Thus, the key issue with such plants is their high capital cost of construction.  But as noted above, that's offset by low operating costs.  The question becomes, will capital markets provide companies with the funds to construct such plants?  My expectation is that they will.  As with other technologies, the cost of construction will likely decrease as more plants are built and the construction "knowledge base" increases.

            As such, there are really now two different technologies that can solve the problem of solar power at night – Tesla's battery solution and the CSP with molten salt solution.  Doubtless, other technologies will also emerge.  These two solutions make solar power truly viable on a national scale because they both solve the problem of accessing solar power at midnight. 

            Is molten salt a competitive technology to lithium ion batteries?  Will it keep really keep Elon Musk awake at night?  Most likely it won't.  That's because it's really a complementary technology to battery storage.  It's probably the better choice when it comes to large scale energy storage.  Lithium ion technology, on the other hand, is probably a much better "smaller scale" technology.  After all, is anyone realistically going to have a molten salt storage facility in the garage at home?  No, but they're very likely to have a lithium ion battery system.

            Just one more nail in the coal power coffin … and maybe even other fossil fuel power sources.

            And just that much more evidence that the solution to greenhouse gas emissions is on its way, brought to you not be Big Government and international treaties such as the Paris Climate Accord, but good old fashioned technological innovation.







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The President wants to build a border wall that Democrats and others loathe. The funny thing is, the Democrats actually might want to help the President build biggest wall he can.

            Ever since I first heard the idea of building a wall on the US-Mexico border, I've been disgusted.  I know lots of other people are, too.  I also know people who think a big wall is absolutely essential, and long overdue. 

            It's just another one of the many issues where people find themselves resolutely on one side or the other. 

            Neither side wants to give an inch.   There's no middle ground … and there's nothing but stalemate.

            Until you figure out a way to get past the stalemate.  Let me suggest an unusual way to do it.  The main idea behind the "The Unexpected Perspective" blog is to start with the following question: could there be a reason to embrace some or many of the ideas of my opponent?  These days, that sounds very unusual because it is very unusual.  So let's try the idea out on the topic of Donald Trump's border wall.

            Could there be a reason why liberals and progressives would love to build Donald Trump's border wall?  Sounds like a ridiculous question, but the surprising answer is … absolutely, positively, yes!  Now let me explain to you how I've arrived at this highly unusual conclusion.

            Donald Trump prides himself on being a master negotiator.  In real estate, at least, looks as though he is really, really good.  So if the Democrats want to succeed, they probably should spend some time thinking about their negotiating strategy.  Trump is a bit unusual, so maybe it's time for some unusual negotiations. 

           Anyone who has ever taken a negotiating course knows the difference between a "zero sum" negotiation and a "win/win" one.  "Zero sum" means that "I win/you lose".  In the latter form, both parties can win.  I've taken a number of such courses and have never seen anyone advocate for "zero sum", they've all advocated some form of "win/win". 

            "Zero sum" usually doesn't work.  Either there is no agreement reached, or the agreement tends to get sabotaged.

            "Win/win" usually wins.  So how could that idea be applied to Donald Trump's border wall?  Let's go back to my earlier question, why would liberals and progressives ever want to have a border wall?  The answer: if in return they got something they really want. 

            Liberals have said they want the Dreamers – children brought illegally to the USA by their parents - to be able to stay in the USA.  There may be some signs that Trump will give them that in exchange for his wall.  Frankly, if that's the case, they're not bargaining hard enough with him.

            As I'll show you below, ironically, the Democrats would actually be better off not only with a wall, but with a bigger wall!  They can go to the President and offer the following: the more you're willing to work with us, the more we'll support your wall. 

            I've heard that the President really enjoys fast food, so let me describe some possible "deals" they might offer the President.  I'll describe them in terms of the Burger King menu.    After all, the President seems to know something or other about whoppers, so let's talk about the Whopper®.  Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer can offer the President the following three Burger King choices:

            Choice #1: Hamburger, fries and a Coke

The President can build sections of the wall.  In return, the Dreamers will be allowed to stay in the USA and given a pathway to citizenship.  It's the "small meal" solution.

            Choice #2: Bacon & Cheese Whopper, fries and a Coke

The President can build a bigger wall than he can in choice #1.  In return, not only can the Dreamers stay, but so can their families, as well as Haitians, Salvadorans, and certain other illegals.  It's a bigger meal at Burger King, and it's a bigger solution for both the President and the Democrats. 

            Choice #3: Double Whopper, fries and a Coke

The President can build as big a wall as he wants.  In return, with the exception of those convicted of felonies, every illegal immigrant in the USA will be offered not only an opportunity to stay in the USA, but also a clearly defined pathway to citizenship.  This is "the whopper solution."

            You can see the idea.  The more the President wants his wall, the more he needs to concede on the other end.  The funny thing is, both parties would probably gain by heading as close as possible to choice #3: they'd both win more by giving the other side what it wants.

            Choice #3 sounds crazy, but that's not the right question to ask.  Instead, the right question to ask is, is it crazy enough?  Let's consider how both sides could win under choice #3.

            The President wins because he gets his wall.  He can fulfill a giant campaign promise to his base.  In theory, the wall will stop, or greatly reduce, illegal immigration and drug smuggling.  Not only that, he'll be in a position to claim that Mexico paid for the wall.  Now the government of Mexico won't be paying a nickel towards the wall.  Instead, by legalizing the illegals, the USA stands to gain a giant tax windfall.  Millions of workers who have been paid under the table will now be paid properly, and taxes will be withheld in a proper manner.  The President can surely claim the new taxes, collected from Mexican nationals in the process of becoming US citizens, will pay for his wall.

            Democrats win because they can get something they've been wanting for years – comprehensive immigration reform.  Businesses will also benefit hugely by that.  Cities and states can also benefit because people who were previously illegal will now be paying taxes.

            Illegal aliens will win, for the obvious reasons.  As part of a choice #3 deal, it would be important to charge those becoming legalized.  One side can describe that as a fine for illegal entry.  The other can characterize it as the cost of becoming legal – the cost of applying to become a US citizen. 

            Mexico wins because it will put to an end an issue that has created friction between both countries.

            As they already do, each side can go on TV and tell its own version.  The President can trumpet his wall on Fox.  Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer can hail a comprehensive solution to immigration on MSNBC and CNN.  Everybody can win!

            But the win is only possible by re-framing the problem from a "zero sum" to "win/win".  And as I've pointed out, if properly structured, the ironic outcome is that the more the Democrats concede to the President on his wall, the more they can win, too.  Burger King choice #1 is a lousy deal.  Not such a great meal.  Choice #2 is definitely a better deal.  But choice #3 is definitely the best deal! 

            In terms of choice #3, each side can say: hey, 1400 calories plus tons of saturated fat, but look what we got?  

            Is building a wall still a stupid idea?  It all comes down to what you get in exchange for the wall.  Conversely, is legalizing a whole bunch of illegals a bad idea?  It all comes down to what you get in exchange.

            In this context, not only is a wall a good idea, a big wall is a better idea, and the biggest wall is the best ideaAnd the unexpected outcome is that the best way to accomplish what you want is by helping your opponent accomplish what he wants.  It's an old lesson in politics, and negotiation.  Hopefully, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi will each rediscover what they already knew.  And maybe they, along with the man who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, will all get more of what they want.

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What's the best way to fight untruths and distortions? We'd like to think sharing facts will do it. This post explores the question and comes up with an unexpected answer.

            Don't "alternative facts" and other lies just drive you nuts?  How can so much junk be published every day?  How can so many people fall for all of this?  If we could just show them the facts, they'd see how wrong they are! 

            Sound familiar?  Absolutely!

            The funny thing is, this conversation occurs daily not just in progressive, Democratic households … the very same thing happens in conservative, very Republican ones.

            We're all convinced that the other side is ill-informed, even stupid. 

            Unfortunately, the real truth may be even worse: both sides are ill-informed, maybe even stupid.  But what I find most distressing is it applies to science oriented issues.  We all seem to think we have "science" on our side, and the other side has only "junk science", or "politically motivated science". 

            Sadly, that doesn't appear to be the case at all.

            Not only that, but the public as a whole is repeatedly deceived about science by highly motivated parties.

            That's bad news … and I've got even more bad news below.  Fortunately, I've also got some good news.  Some recent research suggests a possible way out of this.  The answer isn't that we need more and better dissemination of scientific information.  Instead, we need to figure out a way to increase our scientific curiosity, which isn't the same.  More about that below. 

            The good news is that we humans usually are very curious.  After all, "inquiring minds want to know"!   Which, curiously, may suggest that the way to overcome some of our political divides isn't to provide more "scientific facts".  Instead, maybe we just need to tell better stories.  Could we all learn something from the "National Enquirer" and TMZ?

            But before getting to the really good news, let's take a look at some sad history.  A few years ago the term "agnotology" was coined.  That's the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly in the publication of misleading or inaccurate scientific data.  The classic case of this is what Big Tobacco did to counteract scientific information, first appearing in the early 1950's, that smoking was dangerous to health.  The Big Tobacco companies carried on a half century effort against those who sought to point out the health dangers of smoking.  They were masterfully successful.

            Many say that other organizations have been keen students of Big Tobacco.  These include Big Oil (trying to call climate change into question); and the National Rifle Association (trying to defend gun ownership).  I mention these as examples … there are certainly many more, and on both ends of the political spectrum.

            Lots of people get frustrated by these cases.  They're often muttering under their breath, "why can't these people be stopped?"  The same people reasonably believe that the prevarications and mis-representations of any extreme group they happen to disagree with can be exposed with facts, and the battle will be won.  Sadly, not the case. 

            Tim Harford, known as the "Undercover Economist", wrote about the problem several months ago in the Financial Times.  He observed three problems with what I'll call the "fighting lies with facts" strategy.  First, a simple untruth can beat off a complicated set of facts, just by being easier to understand and remember.  Sounds terrible, but it really does make sense.  The truth behind many things is complicated and hard to remember.  Soundbites … even patently patently false ones … are much easier to comprehend and remember.

            Now for what I think is the scary corollary of this.  According to Harford, there's evidence that repeating a false claim, even as part of debunking the false claim, can make the false claim stick.  Politifact, a movement to check the veracity of political pronouncements, may actually be its own worst enemy.  Politifact's term for an egregious untruth spoken by a politician is "Pants on Fire" … you no doubt know where that phrase came from.  Based upon what Harford is saying, every time Politifact attempts to shed the light of truth on a "Pants on Fire" comment, it may inadvertently be cementing the idea in the mind of the public even more. 

            No one understands this concept better than the President of the United States.  In fact, some people have made the argument that "the fact checkers are Trump's poodle".  Ouch!

            The second argument that Harford makes is something all of us learned in school: facts can be boring.  Not only that, the facts may be so boring that an awful lot of people just tune out.  There's some concern that news organizations slant their news to fit a particular viewpoint.  No doubt, there's some truth to that, but even a quick review of newspapers from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries shows that certainly isn't anything new.  After a brief perusal of some old newspapers, you could easily come away thinking that today's reporting actually pretty balanced!

            No, the problem with facts could actually be worse.  It may be that lots of people simply aren't getting any facts at all.  In 2016 researchers Seth Flaxman, Sharad Goel and Justin Roe published a study of how people read news online.  The objective was to study the online news reading habits of 1.2 million people and assess bias in news reporting.  Unfortunately, their sample of 1.2 million people ended up reduced to 50,000.  The sad truth?  Only about 4% of the 1.2 million people in their study read enough serious news to be included in the study!  You may ask, how much serious news did one have to read in order to qualify to be in the 50,000 sample? It was 10 news articles and 2 opinion pieces over 90 days.  That's less than one news story per week!  In citing the study, Harford noted: "Many commentators worry that we're segregating ourselves in ideological bubbles, exposed only to the views of those who think the same way we do. There's something in that concern. But for 96 per cent of these web surfers the bubble that mattered wasn't liberal or conservative, it was: 'Don't bother with the news.'"  Double ouch!

            Harford's third argument is that the truth can be threatening.   He observed: "The problem here is that while we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, our rationality didn't just evolve to solve practical problems, such as building an elephant trap, but to navigate social situations. We need to keep others on our side. Practical reasoning is often less about figuring out what's true, and more about staying in the right tribe."  Harford cites a classic 1954 study called "They Saw a Game".  Researchers from Dartmouth College (my alma mater) and Princeton studied a football game between their respective schools played on November 23, 1951.  The reaction to the game was largely colored by one's school loyalty.  Needless to say, the researchers found the Dartmouth students overlooked fouls committed by the Dartmouth players and complained about how some of the penalties assessed against their team.  Princeton supporters did the exact reverse.  Anyone who watches sports in the early 21st century will say, "that's a flash of the blindingly obvious"!  Needless to say, our tribal affiliations trump our scientific objectivity..

            If Harford and other researchers are correct, we really shouldn't be surprised that "determined obfuscators" (my term) like Big Tobacco on smoking, and Big Oil with climate change, are successful in their efforts.

            Which is all bad, but it actually gets worse before it gets better.  According to Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale University, "groups with opposing values often become more polarized, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information."  Climate change is a perfect example.  Liberals seem to believe that if conservatives would pay attention to the scientific facts about global warming, they'd "see the light."  Guess what?  When scientifically literate conservatives are presented with the facts liberals want them to see, they actually become even more opposed to arguments about global warming!  So much for "the facts".

            All of which seems to explain a lot of what we observe.  The question is, can anything be done about it?  Can we somehow not be taken in by companies trying to mis-lead us?  Can we show more interest in scientific matters?  Can we overcome our boredom with facts?  Can we place scientific objectivity ahead of our tribal loyalties?  Can we somehow reduce the polarization, especially about matters of science?

            Now for the good news I promised you earlier.  The answer is, yes, there may be a way to overcome this.  Dan Kahan, the Yale professor cited earlier, wrote an interesting article early in 2017 suggesting a way.  Kahan and his fellow researchers concluded that increasing scientific literacy isn't the way to do it: "higher proficiency in science comprehension accentuates identity affirming rather than truth convergent forms of political information processing."  I guess that's a professorial way to say, people who are scientifically literate are just as likely, even more likely, to base their science views on their tribal and political affiliations, not science.   

            So if scientific literacy isn't the solution, what is?  According to Kahan and his associates, the answer has to do with "scientific curiosity."  Scientific curiosity isn't the same thing as scientific literacy.  In fact, one doesn't have to have a lot of science training to be scientifically curious.  Moreover, Kahan also found that people who are scientifically literate aren't necessarily highly scientifically curious.

            Kahan and his team created what they call a "scientific curiosity scale."  People who are "scientifically curious" are more willing to set aside tribal and political affiliations and be more objective.

            Let's assume Kahan and his fellow researchers are correct.  If so, then the key may be to increase scientific curiosity.  How do you do that?  That will likely take more research.  The good news, however, is that humans are naturally curious … and there are some things about which we're probably all very curious.  You probably won't like the answer, but it seems that we're almost uniformly curious when it comes to sex, scandal, and gossip.  Other things, too, but those are the first things that come to mind. 

            You can't explain "The National Enquirer" or the Kardashians any other way.   That doesn't sound like it has anything to do with big science … or any other truly important issues, except it really does … IF you buy into Kahan's argument that the key is to increase curiosity.  Somehow, some way, we don't necessarily need to present more scientific facts, we need to find a way to encourage people to be more curious.  Harford notes, "We journalists and policy wonks can't force anyone to pay attention to the facts. We have to find a way to make people want to seek them out. Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it's also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don't pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing." 

            So maybe we're all ill informed and stupid, just not for the reasons for which we accuse each other.  And the solution isn't what we think.

            If we really want to persuade our opponents to reconsider their science views, the key may to increase our scientific curiosity.  And to learn about how that might be done, maybe our first step should be to pull a page out of TMZ's playbook, or learn something about how it's done to us in the supermarket checkout line.


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Carl Treleaven is an entrepreneur, author, strong supporter of various non-profits, and committed Christian. He is CEO of Westlake Ventures, Inc., a company with diversified investments in printing and software.


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