The price of solar is falling faster than experts expected

What Tech Is Next for the Solar Industry?:

The technology that’s surprised almost everyone is conventional crystalline silicon. A few years ago, silicon solar panels cost $4 per watt, and Martin Green, professor at the University of New South Wales and one of the leading silicon solar panel researchers, declared that they’d never go below $1 a watt. “Now it’s down to something like 50 cents of watt, and there’s talk of hitting 36 cents per watt,” he says.

While small changes to the way solar panels are responsible for much of this price drop – things like being able to print the ultra-fine wires used to connect the cells in a panel and cells that can absorb sunlight from both the front and back – the biggest change is going to be the introduction of different semiconductors in the cells themselves:

Even longer-term, Green is betting on silicon, aiming to take advantage of the huge reductions in cost already seen with the technology. He hopes to greatly increase the efficiency of silicon solar panels by combining silicon with one or two other semiconductors, each selected to efficiently convert a part of the solar spectrum that silicon doesn’t convert efficiently. Adding one semiconductor could boost efficiencies from the 20 to 25 percent range to around 40 percent. Adding another could make efficiencies as high as 50 percent feasible, which would cut in half the number of solar panels needed for a given installation.

How to convince science skeptics

A psychology professor at Yale found that when looking at new scientific evidence, we tend to interpret facts through a lens based on our previously held beliefs. With the wrong framing, our brain subconsciously jumps into a defensive mode where we try to rationalize the new information in a way that either makes the information support our preconceptions or pick out the faults so as to not shift our beliefs.

So the key to convincing someone isn’t throwing facts at them, it’s presenting the facts in the context of certain values:

This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.


Becoming a scientist isn’t an option for most kids

The Path to Being a Scientist Doesn’t Have to Be So Narrow:

Many American students are all but knocked out of the race toward a graduate science degree before their 13th birthday. To get on the advanced math track in high school, you need to complete algebra in the eighth grade. This is standard practice in affluent communities but rare to nonexistent in many low-income schools. Then students must advance through calculus—another subject more available to the privileged—by their senior year of high school. Then they must navigate the complex college admissions process and come up with an increasingly large amount of money to pay tuition. Then they have to slog through huge, impersonal freshman lecture courses that are designed to weed students out. Only then can the few students who remain advance toward science careers.

While I look forward to online classes making higher education more accessible in the coming years, I also worry about the cultural shifts that need to happen if America is going to stay competitive in the future. Parents need to understand the importance of motivating their children to aspire to bigger and better things. That can’t be taught in the classroom alone. 

If a university-level education can be offered for little-to-no-cost to anyone anywhere in the world, we need to make sure that our kids take advantage of that opportunity because at some point, people won’t need to come to America to be successful.

3D models generated from DNA in hair and gun found in public places

Creepy or Cool? Portraits Derived From the DNA in Hair and Gum Found in Public Places | Collage of Arts and Sciences:

From this sequence, Dewey-Hagborg gathers information about the person’s ancestry, gender, eye color, propensity to be overweight and other traits related to facial morphology, such as the space between one’s eyes. “I have a list of about 40 or 50 different traits that I have either successfully analyzed or I am in the process of working on right now,” she says.

Dewey-Hagborg then enters these parameters into a computer program to create a 3D model of the person’s face.” Ancestry gives you most of the generic picture of what someone is going to tend to look like. Then, the other traits point towards modifications on that kind of generic portrait,” she explains. The artist ultimately sends a file of the 3D model to a 3D printer on the campus of her alma mater, New York University, so that it can be transformed into sculpture.

Am I disappointed that we don’t have flying cars yet? Yes. Do I still think we live in the future? Yes.

We shouldn’t bring back extinct species

Extinct Animals Should Stay Dead | VICE United States:

Stewart Brand and his team of mad scientists want to bring extinct animals back to life. While we’re at it, why don’t we have the Olympics on Mars? Why don’t I have a carbon-fiber toilet seat? Oh yeah, because those ideas would cost a shitload of money and everyone everywhere is broke. Surely it would be cheaper and better for the environment to preserve the flora and endangered species that we still have.

Money isn’t everything, of course. Some view de-extinction as a moral responsibility—to extend an olive branch to the planet that we’ve fucked up so badly. However, my glass has been half empty since before I even took a sip. And so, I see two possible outcomes.

First, there’s the absolute worst-case scenario: we bring back our extinct species, but since we hunted them to extinction, they seek revenge. Then there’s the slightly less-worse-case scenario: we make them live in misery, or even relive the misery of their original existence and cause them to go extinct again.

Scumbag humanity: bring back extinct species only for them to go extinct again because of the permanent damage to the environment caused by anthropogenic global warming.

The healing effects of taking in nature

How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies – Adam Alter – The Atlantic:

Nature restores mental functioning in the same way that food and water restore bodies. The business of everyday life — dodging traffic, making decisions and judgment calls, interacting with strangers — is depleting, and what man-made environments take away from us, nature gives back. There’s something mystical and, you might say, unscientific about this claim, but its heart actually rests in what psychologists call attention restoration theory, or ART.

This is why I love Berkeley’s campus. Everywhere you go there are trees and fields of grass and animals going about their business. I think I’m going to do more of my reading outside from now on.

Silicon Valley and “innovation”

peter thiel facebook

“The hypocrisy in Silicon Valley’s big talk on innovation”:

None of this argues for government keeping its nose out of the business of innovation, it makes the case for it taking a leading role – for leveraging its unique position to address these obvious market failures. Only governments had the long view and available cash to fund things like supercolliders, deep space programs and – oh yeah – the development of the Internet.

The tragedy is the United States has defunded many such ambitious research efforts in recent years, amid a climate of deficit paranoia, antitax rhetoric and general government bashing – sometimes by the very people who made fortunes off its creations.

It’s not enough to just release better products each year. If the United States is to remain at the forefront of research and technology, innovation needs to be a national priority. That means funding the scientists and engineers working on the cool technologies of twenty years from now, not cutting spending and hoping that Bay Area execs will take some time off from figuring out how to profit from you posting pictures of your cat in order to go cure cancer.

You’d think the people profiting off of the Internet would get that.

Global temperatures rising at faster rate than any point in last 11,500 years

climate change graph

“The Scariest Climate Change Graph Just Got Scarier”:

To be clear, the study finds that temperatures in about a fifth of this historical period were higher than they are today. But the key, said lead author Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University, is that temperatures are shooting through the roof faster than we’ve ever seen.

“What we found is that temperatures increased in the last hundred years as much as they had cooled in the last six or seven thousand,” he said. “In other words, the rate of change is much greater than anything we’ve seen in the whole Holocene,” referring to the current geologic time period, which began around 11,500 years ago.

My greatest fear is that we’re already too late to stop this change from becoming irreversible.

Republicans have the statistics backwards on pregnancy from rape

celeste greig california republican assembly

Proving yet again that Republicans don’t know when to stop talking, here’s Celeste Greig, president of the California Republican Assembly:

“Granted, the percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small because it’s an act of violence, because the body is traumatized,” Greig told the newspaper. “I don’t know what percentage of pregnancies are due to the violence of rape. Because of the trauma the body goes through, I don’t know what percentage of pregnancy results from the act.”

Yeah, the percentage is “small” if small means, you know, “twice the per-incident rate for consensual sex”:

The newspaper cited statistics from a 2003 study by St. Lawrence University that showed women get pregnant after rape at a rate that is more than double that for a single act of consensual sex. Relying on data from U.S. National Violence Against Women survey, the study said the per-incident rape-pregnancy rate was 6.4 percent while the same rate for women having consensual sex was 3.1 percent per encounter.