science fact

The Krugman Effect
Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman

In an interview on Geeks Guide to the Galaxy (Wired), econtard Paul Krugman discussed the relationship between science fiction and economics. He said that he was inspired to pursue economics by Asimov’s Foundation series. Quelle surprise! He also claimed economic laws change over time (I know, I know!), but he nevertheless embraces one unstoppable apriori economic law in the interview: greed.

Free online college course: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World: Taught by Professor Eric S. Rabkin of the University of Michigan. Hosted by Coursera. The course will run 10 weeks and will cover Grimm, Carroll, Stoker, Shelley, Hawthorne & Poe, Wells, Burroughs & Gilman, Bradbury, LeGuin, and Doctorow (Little Brother). Click on over for more details and the registration form.

ISS astronaut impressed by private firm SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle: “Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset. Of course it is from Los Angeles.” And “You could say a new era of spaceflight has begun. Soon private companies will take people to and from space.”

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EDITORIAL | Why Space Is So Important Thumbnail

Robert Zubrin

The answer: freedom and opportunity.

Dr. Robert Zubrin has long been a strong proponent of Mars colonization and he has put forth a strategy for doing so with existing technology on the (relative) cheap. Hint: We don’t need to build big spaceships in orbit or colonize the moon first. If you’re interested in this subject, I recommend you check out his books Entering Space, The Case for Mars, and How to Live on Mars. These books are understandable to the layman but also include enough nitty-gritty details and formulas to satisfy the more mathematically inclined enthusiast, and they make excellent resources for science fiction authors.

In the brief video below, Zubrin is answering a question about his book, How to Live on Mars, at the 28th Annual International Space Development Conference, held March 28-31, 2009. Watch it and then continue on after the break for my thoughts on what he had to say.

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NEWS | Gregory Benford in Reason Magazine on Science Fiction in Light of Humanity’s Future in Space Thumbnail

Wernher von Braun's Vision

There’s an article by science fiction author Gregory Benford in the February issue of Reason Magazine (also available online at Reason.com). I hadn’t realized it, but Benford has written three other articles for Reason (see below for a list of the others).

In the article, Benford briefly discusses the role of Nazi SS officer and rocket scientist Wernher von Braun ((Benford doesn’t call Von Braun a facilitator of mass murder, but does mention that he ran “Adolf Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 programs, which sent more than 10,000 rockets into England in 1944 and 1945.”)) in the American government’s space program, from his popular promotion of his vision of man conquering space (interesting choice of war metaphor) to his running the Apollo program.

Benford discusses Von Braun’s vision for how man will conquer space, a vision that strikes me as impractical and expensive and that still lingers in NASA today. He also highlights the decline of NASA and its “ruinously expensive” nature of the American government’s space shuttle program, which suffered catastrophic failures and kept going long past its planned obsolescence.

Though Benford says that Von Braun’s vision lives on, I’m not so sure of that. If he means Von Braun’s  general vision of man “conquering” space, then yes, that vision is not dead. If he means Von Braun’s more specific vision of how this is to be accomplished, then no, I do not think that vision will live on.

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BOOK REVIEW | Cells, Gels, and the Engines of Life by Gerald H. Pollack Thumbnail

A revised vision of basic cell biology

Science fiction blends science and story, but stories and images are among the building blocks of science itself to a greater extent than most people realize. The most engaging science books tackle the narratives that scientists believe and on which they base study designs and interpretations. Cells, Gels, and the Engines of Life provides a detailed case study of how such scientific stories and simple mental images operate to guide entire fields over decades – and not always along the best available paths.

With everything from bio-engineering to bio-hazards of keen interest in the popular and science-fictional imaginations, it is important to be clear on the fundamentals of how cells work. We might have thought we already knew, but this book questions a whole list of “textbook” fundamentals and offers an alternative, integrated framework for explaining a wide range of cell functions.

Once a misguided view has been established in any field, not only in economics, but apparently also even fields such as cell biology with relatively few obvious sources of political distortion, it can take a rare blend of courage, expertise, and clarity to budge things in a new direction. This can emerge not only in the storied times of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, but even today. It still takes a heroic protagonist to put it all together and say it out loud against layers of convention. Meet Dr. Gerald H. Pollack,  the author, professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington.

A master class in scientific thinking

Anyone with a firm reading ability can delve into this book and might be surprised, given the school-inflicted association of basic science instruction with soporific textbooks, to be sucked in on the first page. This is much more than a book about how cells work; it is a master class in fresh and precise scientific thinking, an art much in need of renaissance in an age of truth by click-through count, research-grant total, and mere widespread assertion.

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