Vox Day Hits Grand Slam: “Engineering Is The Acid Test of Science”

A little over ten years ago–hard to believe it was that long ago–Vox Day threw a Molotov Cocktail on the New Atheist elitists in The Irrational Atheist (TIA). It was groundbreaking in that, while not being a book about apologetics, there are plenty of such resources out there written by others, Vox took a completely outside-the-box approach: he put the truth claims of Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins to the test.

It was an unfair fight: Vox destroyed the High Church Atheist cabal. Most importantly, Vox provided a blueprint for how to critically assess Atheists.

Tangential to the debates over Atheism is a fundamental debate over what constitutes science. Vox partially addressed this in TIA in the course of his takedown of Dawkins & Co.

Of particular concern over the past century has been the “peer review” paradigm, cited by scientists as an appeal to their authority, a claim that their proclamations–because they are “peer reviewed”–can be trusted as science. Vox, of course, has rightly called this “peer review” appeal to account, particularly when reproducible, experimental data is lacking.

Examples in this debate include hot-button issues: anthropogenic global warning and macroevolution (i.e. the theory of evolution by natural selection). In both instances, we have mathematical models that neither jibe with historical data nor serve as reliable predictive models, even as “scientific consensus” embraces them as if they are Holy Writ.

(To be fair: Vox is no Young Earth Fundamentalist. He does, however, express a healthy skepticism of the claims of those in the pro-evolution scientific community, as they don’t stack up with the data.)

In his latest salvo, Vox provides a tangible example-from the world of exercise, of which, as a weightlifter and martial artist, he has a strong grasp–of how to test the claims of science, something recognized by strength expert Mark Rippetoe.

One thing that many people, both scientists and uncredentialed laymen fail to understand is that science is not, fundamentally, about knowledge. It primarily concerns understanding. What Rippetoe is saying here is that in the field of exercise science, men like him know what works and what doesn’t. The paucity of “truly useful information” to which he refers is the deeper scientific understanding required to further improve upon what is already known.

The primary utility of science is not being able to say that something works, much less to make something work, but rather, to explain why it works. Or, conversely, to explain why something should work if the theory is put into application. This, of course, is why it is so easy for non-scientists to detect scientific fraud; when the theory is put into application and it fails, this is fairly strong evidence that the theory, i.e. the science, is incorrect.

Engineering is the acid test of science.

That last quote is gold: that is because engineering is the application of science. If the pronouncements of science are true, then, in general, engineers in relevant fields ought to be able to take it to the bank and produce new technologies. Understanding radiation is impressive; using that understanding to produce weapons or provide electricity to homes, or perform medical diagnoses or treat disease, is a serious BFD.

In the world of exercise, you have a very large, real-life swath of people willing to test the strength of a hypothesis. Currently, the endurance community is fighting hard to break the 2-hour barrier in the marathon. Any science that advances that cause is welcome, and there are athletes ready to test it.

Gun Control Meets its Match: Technology

In one of the most valiant efforts at attacking windmills, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) is trying to ban the production of ammunition magazines with 3-D printers.

Aside from the Constitutional issues–Rep. Israel’s efforts are an infringement not just on the Second Amendment, but also the First Amendment–this is an exercise in both futility and stupidity.

First of all, 3-D printer technology has the potential to be a great economic game changer. How? It will soon be possible for almost anyone–with sufficient skill–to become his or her own manufacturing company with low capital investment. This will spawn innovation on so many fronts, and drive real economic growth by literally creating home-grown manufacturing in ways no one would ever have thought possible.

Secondly, the 3-D printer will become for firearms what the World Wide Web was/is for pornography.

For those who are old enough to remember, there was a time that both sides of the pornography debate were in a stalemate over the “community standard”. As a result, more liberal communities allowed lots of “adult bookstores” whereas others used zoning laws to keep such establishments in check. When people wanted to purchase porn, they had to buy it in public unless they could afford to pay through the nose for cable television.

But the World Wide Web fundamentally changed the game: pornography became easily-accessible to the masses. Today, a large amount of it is available for free. In fact, the pornography industry–for many years–literally drove the development of technology for the Web. Early advancements in e-commerce, for example, were driven by the demand for porn on the Web.

(NOTE: I am not defending porn here; just stating the reality for what it is.)

3-D technology is that same type of game changer for manufacturing of all types, including firearms. While the technology is itself very pricey and still in its infancy, it will go the way of computer technology: precision and potential will increase dramatically and prices will also fall.

This will spawn a whole new wave of innovation in a variety of products, including firearms. The production of all-polymer weapons, customized ammunition, and accessories of all types, will be possible for anyone with the imagination.

And it will be almost impossible for the gun controllers to contain.

That is because if you cannot control the printing press, then you cannot control what one produces with that press, no matter how hard you try.

And given that the government will soon run out of money, their capacity to regulate anything will greatly diminish, as the capacity of the masses to innovate and produce will expand.

It will be checkmate.

I’m Not Surprised

at the current problems with the Toyota vehicles. A couple years ago, a friend of mine at church–who happened to be a longtime quality engineer who had worked at many different companies–said, “Japanese companies are not necessarily better in terms of quality. When American companies have quality problems, they are more likely to be open and constructive about resolving them, whereas Japanese companies are more likely to keep their issues under wraps, revealing them only when they can no longer avoid doing so.”

On the other hand, I must tip my hat to Toyota: they have done more for American car industry, than all of the collective government bailouts ever could have hoped to accomplish.

The Engineer and the Programmer…

The Engineer and the Programmer

A programmer and an engineer are sitting next to each other on a long flight from Los Angeles to New York.

The programmer leans over to the engineer and asks if he would like to play a fun game.

The engineer just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks.

The programmer persists and explains that the game is real easy and is a lot of fun. He explains “I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll pay you $5.”

Again, the engineer politely declines and tries to get to sleep.

The programmer, now somewhat agitated, says, “OK, if you don’t know the answer you pay me $5, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll pay you $100!”

This catches the engineer’s attention, and he sees no end to this torment unless he plays, so he agrees to the game.

The programmer asks the first question. “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” The engineer doesn’t say a word, but reaches into his wallet, pulls out a five dollar bill and hands it to the programmer.

Now, it’s the engineer’s turn. He asks the programmer “What goes up a hill with three legs, and comes down on four?”

The programmer looks up at him with a puzzled look. He takes out his laptop computer and searches all of his references. He taps into the Airphone with his modem and searches the net and the Library of Congress. Frustrated, he sends e-mail to his co-workers–all to no avail.

After about an hour, he wakes the Engineer and hands him $100. The engineer politely takes the $100 and turns away to try to get back to sleep. The programmer, more than a little miffed, shakes the engineer and asks “Well, so what’s the answer?” Without a word, the engineer reaches into his wallet, hands the programmer $5, and turns away to get back to sleep.

Note to MSHA: Shut Murray Energy Down…YESTERDAY!

08/20/2007: Let me see if I can understand their logic:

  1. The Crandall canyon mine suffered two collapses earlier this year.
  2. MSHA, Murray Energy, and related engineering firms decided the mine was safe enough for operations.
  3. On August 6, the mine collapses, trapping six miners.
  4. The ensuing rescue attempt results in three more deaths in a similar type of collapse.
  5. Murray is now insisting that the mine is no longer safe enough to attempt a rescue, so he rules out using a capsule.
  6. Murray now says that there is still recoverable coal in the mine, and plans on resuming operations.

Just what the [foxtrot] is this? If the mine is too unstable for rescue operations, then why is it stable enough for mining?

Where the [foxtrot] is the MHSA in this? Why have they not ordered this mine shut down?
Murray is a confirmed flat-ass liar. He has consistently made promises and failed to deliver. He has protested against the obvious, and given completely erroneous information.

As for the MSHA, can anyone now doubt that they are in collusion with engineering firms and the corporations that own the mines?

May they all rot in jail.

Murray Needs to Answer…in Court

08/20/2007: …and I’m not talking about lawsuits–although I hope the families of the six miners take his ass to the cleaners.

No…this is a criminal matter. Murray, every engineering firm whose reps signed off on his practice, and even folks at the the Mine Safety and Health Administration who enabled this travesty, need to face the music in crimimal court. There is–at the bare minimum–a prima facie case that they recklessly endangered the lives of miners. A grand jury needs to look into indicting them.

Don’t get me wrong; I realize that mining is an inherently dangerous occupation, and it will not go away in our lifetimes, or even in the next two or three generations. Other than nuclear power–which is so heavily-regulated that no significant plant development has taken place since the Three Mile Island debacle–no other energy source provides the economies of scale that coal does. And the world is full of demand for inexpensive energy, especially here.

That said, an engineer’s first obligation–whether it be civil, electrical, mechanical, industrial, aerospace, or even mining engineering–is to the public safety. Period. Paragraph.

Here’s what Richard Stickler of the MSHA rold FOX News:

No support system currently in existence can withstand the explosive force of a mountain bump because those forces are nearly impossible to predict, Stickler said. Once one coal pillar collapses, the weight it had carried gets transferred to adjacent coal pillars, setting off a chain reaction.

If that is the case, then why did the MSHA and engineering firms allow for the continued mining at Crandall Canyon? There were two collapses in March; where was the MSHA? Why did engineers–and the government–not recommend the shutdown of the mine?

Now these winners are telling us that the miners may never be found. This after the mine owner has spent the last two weeks telling us an earthquake caused the collapse (and ignoring that the mining caused the small earthquake which caused the collapse), and has promised “definitive news” while failing to deliver. 

This should also serve as a wakeup call to the mining industry, government agencies, and–yes–engineers.

While the industry has made great advancements in worker safety–even with last year’s tragedies added in, the number of mine fatalities is dramatically lower in raw and percentage terms over the last 40 years–cases like this serve as evidence that government, mining corporations, and engineering firms can get lax on safety, just as NASA let their guard down and handed us the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

That is why Murray, the MSHA, and relevant engineering firms must be scrutinized in court.

Utah Mine Disaster: Murray Needs to STHU

08/14/2007: Part of me wants to empathize with Bob Murray, owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, the collapse of which has left six miners buried with rescue attempts very slow. The media went after him quickly, and he fought back with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, that only works if you provide substance, and Murray has made some very false statements–jumping to conclusions before appropriate investigations were complete, and has made promises of “definitive news” while failing to deliver.

His combative style is damaging his ability to communicate effectively, as he is provoking the “methinks the gentleman doth protest too much” response. Topping it all off, he has made some claims that have turned out to be false and therefore damaging to his credibility.

The miners are still trapped, and so far he has asserted that (1) an earthquake caused the collapse, (2) the collapse had nothing to do with “retreat mining”, and (3) retreat mining was not being used at the time of the collapse.

(1) I believe the experts at the U.S. Geological Survey: the collapse caused the seismic event, not the other way around. They are smart enough to know the difference between an earthquake and a mine collapse, and they are almost always correct in their assessments of seismic events. Murray would have done well to keep his mouth shut on that one.

(2) Apparently, the mining that he had performed–that included highly-risky “Retreat Mining”–had been approved by engineering firms and the government. That hardly makes it ethical. Engineering firms–even government agencies–sign off on things all the time, and that does not necessarily make the practice safe. An engineering firm–if run by unscrupulous people (and all professions have a them in their ranks)–can let money override their better judgement. Government agencies often allow matters to get buried in bureaucratic morass. 

If I am an engineer and I believe–in my professional judgement–that something is risky, then I have an ethical obligation to raise the red flag, even if others have endorsed it. Apparently, other miners raised concerns about the stability of that mine. To what extent did Murray–or the Mine Safety and Health Administration–act on those concerns? What engineers evaluated that mine? What did they see, and what were their bases for keeping the mine open?

(3) The issue is not whether “retreat mining” was in practice at the time, but rather (a) whether it was in practice at that mine at any time before or up to the collapse, (b) what effect did that mining have on the stability of the mine, (c) what warning signs were there in the months before the collapse, and (d) who acted on what?

Back in March, two sections of the Crandall mine collapsed.

When that happened, what course of action did Murray take? Which engineering firms did he hire? Were those the same firms that were involved in the retreat mining of prior years? Who were the government investigators involved? What information did they see? How did they reach the conclusions they reached?

Here is an example of a Murrayism:

There’s no connection between retreat mining and the natural disaster that occurred here…I’ve said that from the beginning, and that’s the way it will eventually come out.

He doesn’t know that. Fact is, this may not be a natural disaster; it could easily be a consequence of loss of structural integrity due to past mining. (I would suggest that it is.)

This could be a catastrophic phenomenon that resulted in spite of sound engineering practices; it could also be the result of professional and/or criminal negligence. This is why we need a thorough public investigation. 

At any rate, Murray needs to drink a big cup of STHU and show some humility on the matter.