Friday, July 17, 2015

Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains Why Government Investment In New Technologies Is So Important

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need ~ Barack Obama (dob 8/4/1961) 44th POTUS (1/20/2009 to 1/20/2017). Excerpt from his 1/25/2011 State of Union Address.

Back during the 2012 primary season, a 1/23/2012 GOP NBC debate featured a Newt Gingrich moment that had him proposing the construction of a permanent base on the Moon. Newt said that by 2020 (the last year of his *snicker* administration provided he *snicker* served two terms), private sector businesses spurred on by government-provided prize money would accomplish the task.

At the time I wrote a short commentary of a humorous nature on Newt's proposal titled "A Winning Strategy: President Newt". (Follow the link to read my side-splittingly hilarious laugh-a-palooza from 4/3/2012).

Following this unlikely proposal by Newt (unlikely that we'd build a Moon colony and unlikely that we would have elected Newt preznit), astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared on MSNBC with Martin Bashir to discuss how probable the building of a base on the moon by 2020 might be.

During the 1/26/2012 airing of Bashir's eponymous MSNBC program, Mr. Tyson pointed out that, aside from the technical and scientific hurdles that would have to be overcome, the political climate would have to change. Simply put, the political climate makes this proposal very improbable - or it would have been improbable if Newt had improbably been elected and we had actually pursued it.

Mr. Tyson went on to explain why government investment in new technologies is so important (something those on the Right who believe the "market" should decide don't cotton to).

NDT: There is rampant delusion out there about what the future will hold for us. One of the problems is, the expectation is that the private sector will just advance the space frontier. No, they're not going to advance the space frontier. Because the frontier of space is expensive, dangerous, with unknown risks and unknown costs. That is not ripe for capital markets to value, OK.

The history of human exploration is one where governments take the first step. They pay for the first patents, they draw the maps. Government paid for Columbus' voyage. Magellan's voyage. Louis and Clark. That's who figures out what's going on out there. Then private enterprise comes in afterward. ...we are receding while the rest of the world is advancing. Because they realize the value of such investments. (MSNBC's Martin Bashir 1/26/2012: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why the Newt Gingrich vision for space is too grand of an idea).

Conservatives HATE this idea, even though it is the model that has worked time and time again, as Mr. Tyson points out. Conservatives and Libertarians say this is government "picking winners and losers" and they strongly oppose it.

They object despite the fact that, without this model (where government leads the way when it comes to new technologies), the Internet would have never been invented (for example). The internet began with a government investment when "the US Department of Defense awarded contracts". Later, legislation championed by future president Al Gore led to the development of the interwebs as we know the series of tubes today (for which I thank him).

When I pointed out how crucial government investment is when it comes to new technologies (in the context of the green economy and the government loan program to support companies who invest in green energies such as solar), a whiny Conservative complained about "taxpayer funded gifts to wealthy investors and corporations".

But the evidence shows that when We The People intervene to "advance the frontier" (when the private sector is too timid to take the risk), the American people choose themselves as winners. When we fail to do this we chose to be losers (which is what the whiny guy I mentioned earlier would have us do).

The trick, of course, is to not let the corporations corrupt the system by bribing our elected officials in order to select them (the plutocrat business owners) as the winners. This crony capitalism problem is what greatly concerns Libertarians.

The solution, however, is NOT to do as Libertarians wish and give up because the wealthy special interests will always corrupt the system (that's what they say, at least). But it does not have to be this way! What we should do is reform the system (by getting rid of Citizens United and publicly financing elections, for example) and get down to picking the winners that will benefit We the People.

Unfortunately there is more and more of this defeatist Libertarian loser attitude going around today, and this is why other countries are surpassing us in the areas of green energy and high speed rail, for example [1+2].

Newt's campaign might have been a joke, but at least he was concerned about us losing our status as the cool country (despite being an uber-nerd), which we might have been able to recapture if gwb had not said NO to human-animal hybrids. If not for that bush decree we might have been on our way to a real Planet of The Apes! How cool would that have been? (Are "Humanzees" Possible?).

On second thought, high speed rail would definitely be a lot more gnarly, and more practical than a base on the moon (not that we couldn't do both). But Republicans hate high speed rail. Why? Because rugged individuals drive gas guzzling SUVs, that's why. Or coal rollers, which "are diesel trucks modified with chimneys and equipment that can force extra fuel into the engine causing dark black smoke to pour out of the chimney stacks... as a form of protest against environmentalists and Obama administration emissions regulations".

BTW, in regards to Gingrich being an "uber-nerd", how could he not be with a name like "Newton Leroy"? He also has several degrees in History and was previously employed as an assistant History professor before being elected to Congress.

Although he has had 3 wives, the 1st 2 of which *HE* dumped for a newer model. But that comes with the territory of being rich and powerful. You can be a nerd and get hot women. Not that I'm saying Callista is hot, only that she is surely hot when compared to Newton.

[1] China's Renewable Energy Revolution: What Is Driving It? (article excerpt) China is building a renewables energy system that is now the largest in the world. ... In terms of generating capacity, by 2013 China's WWS sources (water, wind and solar) accounted for... close to 20% of energy generated... China now has the largest electric power system in the world, rated at 1.25 trillion watts (TW), exceeding the US power system's capacity at 1.16 TW (and German at 175 GW). China added more capacity in 2013 sourced from WWS than from fossil fuels and nuclear sources combined. ...our conclusion is that in 2013, China's leading edge of change in its electric power system is moving in a green direction, away from fossil fuels dependence. (Article by John A. Mathews and Hao Tan. GlobalResearch 11/17/2014).
[2] China has the world's longest HSR network with over 16,000 km (9,900 mi) of track in service as of December 2014 which is more than the rest of the world's high speed rail tracks combined. Since high-speed rail service in China was introduced on April 18, 2007, daily ridership has grown from 237,000 in 2007 to 2.49 million in 2014, making the Chinese HSR network the most heavily used in the world. Cumulative ridership had reached 2.9 billion by October 2014. (Wikipedia/High-speed rail in China).

Video1: Martin Bashir and Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discuss Newt Gingrich's intentions to colonize the moon by 2020, and to the funding of space exploration in general on MSNBC. Video posted to YouTube on 1/27/2012 (6:47).

Video2: With planet Earth in turmoil, Newt Gingrich leads a GOP-filled colony on the Moon. SNL 2/4/2012 (Season 37-Episode 13, Hosted by Channing Tatum).

SWTD #298


  1. I recently heard part of an interview with a physicist involved in the discovery of the Higgs boson. He was asked by a reporter what the commercial value is of the discovery. He answered, I have no idea., but then when radio waves were discovered, they were not called radio waves.

    Basic research generally has no immediate commercial value, BUT virtually all commercially viable products are based on "valuless" basic research. Many critics of government sponsored research don't seem to understand this concept.

  2. That's because there is so much waste and overlap in government.

    1. There is waste and overlap, but also a lot of money spent on things we don't need. One example is the defense budget -- grossly over blown. But, I don't see how that impacts peoples' perception of government sponsored research which is a very very small percent of the budget.

    2. If creates the perception of general incompetence and inefficiency.

  3. Ahhh. Perception as opposed to reality.

  4. Jerry, you do know that for many perception is their reality. In fact there are those who argue everyone's perception becomes their reality. But you know that already, right?

  5. Perhaps truth rather than reality would have been a better word.


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