Saturday, January 27, 2018

More than just coincidence?!


rhwombat said...

I can never tell whether the image on the right is Wittgenstein or Kierkegaard , biting the heads off rabbit/ducks.

Emma said...

It's either a snowman with a crippling case of self-doubt, or Donald Trump firing a nuclear missile at Kin Jong-Un's revolutionary new translucent hot-air balloon, I can't decide.

If you've been thinking that I haven't read every single Riddled post for the last six months, you're sorely mistaken. I don't know how I'm going to get over learning that "nanotechnology" is, at present, a thing that is mostly-imaginary — even though they talk about it on the news all the time and assure us that it will be able to cure cancer directly, after a few minor refinements. For example.

Or that a not-inconsequential number of scientists just make shit up and then publish it? HOW IS THAT ALLOWED??? Oh, wait, I meant: Lol.

Emma said...


Smut Clyde said...

I don't know how I'm going to get over learning that "nanotechnology" is, at present, a thing that is mostly-imaginary

There seem to be two meanings for the word 'nanotechnology', allowing the monorail salesmen to switch back and forth between them according to the needs of the occasion.

There's the original 1970s meaning, the science-fiction Engines-of-Creation sense that Drexler had in mind when he coined the word... all about assembling little machines, that would assemble smaller machines, and so on down to the molecular scale, when we would have molecular robots that would be programmed to rebuild our brains from the inside out. The vision there was explicitly anti-biology. Drexler and co. were horrified by the sheer inefficiency of how molecular biology functions... everything relies on thermal energy and the random vibration of atoms to move things around and bring components to where they are needed; reactions being uncombined almost as often as they were combined. There is no central planning! No organisation or logistics! No chain-of-command to operate a rational cellular economy! So they were convinced they could do it better.

There was a lot of overlap between these old-school nanotechnologists and the cryogenic-suspension freeze-your-body-for-the-future crowd. Because the nanite robots would repair all the freeze-shattered cells upon thawing. Also a lot of overlap with the L-5 Orbital Habitat crowd, and the Life Extension crowd... and the "strong AI" salesmen... I should dig out my old copies of the Whole Earth Catalog, and reminisce.

Anyway, the second sense came along a little later, when Physical Chemists realised that they could steal the positive hubristic associations of "nanotech" for what they do ... where the idea is all about controlling conditions in your test-tube sufficiently carefully that all the crystals or whatever will form with the same size and shape, and have nice properties. So liposomes and cubosomes and micelles as drug-delivery vehicles became "nanotech", and plastic beads in cosmetics were "nanotech", and I suppose that baking bread is "nanotech" because it is all about controlling the release of gluten from starch granules on the micro scale.

So you can point out to the monorail salesmen that the promises of nanotech have always been in conflict with several basic principles of thermodynamics and quantum physics, and the reason why biology operates so inefficiently is because that's the only way that works; and they are all "Ha ha, you are so old-fashioned! No-one is thinking of those old definitions when they talk of nanotechnology!" And then they go back to promising a radiant future of infinite possibilities.

Emma said...

Hmmm, this comment form doesn't seem to include a "reply" function, for some reason.

I never knew any of those things about nanotechnology! I didn't know it was a philosophical attempt to usurp the ebon throne whereon sits the Lord God Entropy. Wow, man. Mostly when they talk about it on the teevee, it's illustrated by some tiny gears that appear on a black background and move against one another very slowly. Or little crawly robots that eat red dots that represent cancer cells. But the actual facts are much more interesting. & I actually mean that! I love reading about science, and especially like to learn how to identify the outer bounds of what constitutes "science" and what distinguishes it from "woo." I feel as though I'm a relatively intelligent human being, and I find this to be an overwhelmingly difficult task sometimes. For Trump voters and the deeply religious, I think it's basically impossible.

I am still getting used to the idea that the micellar water I used to use to remove my makeup is a kind of nanotechnology, however. Mostly I have been in the habit of thinking of it as "shit," because it doesn't work very well and also makes my face itch.

...I used to read Ben Goldacre's website for this kind of content, actually, but the last three times I visited it was full of weird hysterical screeds condemning "humanities graduates" for destroying the public perception of science. I backed away.

I now turn to Riddled for woo-ridicule, because I unequivocally refuse to open a Twitter account.

The horror stories of woomeisters practicing their chicanery in countries where many people have no access to real medicine makes me, through universal homeopathic channels no doubt, feel ill. There ought to be some kind of international doctor police that stops that from happening.

Speaking of which, I also hope you haven't gotten into any trouble for crushing the dreams of fragile scifi writers who prefer to publish their short stories under the guise of articles that appear in peer-reviewed science journals, because that would be depressing.

Well, here I am all sad now even though at the beginning of the comment I was having a nice time. Science!

Smut Clyde said...

You definitely need to read "Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition", if you have not already done so. It is probably the best gateway to the whole zeitgeist that spawned "strong nanotechnology" and I cannot praise it enough.

But however tempting that is as a target for pointing and laughing, it is not quite the same as the "weak nanotech" area that has spawned so many academic journals. OK, now I am just repeating previous comment.

Now within this Weak Nanotech literature whereof we speak now, I can kind of forgive the editors and the supposed peer reviewers for accepting and publishing some of the made-up shite, because each paper is at least internally consistent. To notice that the authors are shamelessly recycling the same images to illustrate different (supposed) experiments, the reader needs to be an outsider with an adhesive visual memory. Or an expert in the field. Perhaps the journals need to find experts to review their papers.

And then there is the rest of the made-up shite, where publication is not forgivable, because the half-arsed fabricated nature of the data and the Photoshop quality of the illustrations is immediately obvious, without comparing across papers, without the invocation of advanced wizard-hat image forensics. From which we conclude that the leading journals in the weak-nanotech field are simply not reviewing papers, and will print whatever is sent to them. This does not guarantee that 90% of papers in the field will be fictional but it is a push in that direction.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed Robert B. Laughlin's comment on 'nanobaubles' and also Scott Locklin's scathing critiques of nanotechnology. I worked at a 'nanotechnology' institute for 10 years and almost everything useful we made was on a micron-scale or higher. Nobody changed the institute name, though. Those Sharma papers on pub-peer are terrible - even the electrochemical measurements appear to be fictional (or self replicating).

Smut Clyde said...

Links plz?

Emma said...

Well, I just ordered "Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition," and now here I am watching blog commenters invalidate an entire scientific discipline. What a time to be alive!

Anonymous said...

Locklin on nanotech:

Laughlin's book:

From Chapter 11: ‘Carnival of the baubles’
nanobaubles: ‘fascinating and beautiful structures that develop spontaneously at small scales but have no known use except as entertainment…’

Smut Clyde said...

I need a drink after reading Locklin's overview. Note that he is specifically targetting old-school Hard Nanotech there, so commenters complain that he is flogging a dead horse (or possibly a straw man); evidently they are members of Koestler's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dead Horses. Then Drexler pops up in comments to agree with Locklin that this modern stuff of putting buckyballs in toothpaste is not real nanotech.

Vis-a-vis Nano-Baubles, I just want to say "Biogenic synthesis of ZnO–Ag nano custard apples for efficient photocatalytic degradation of methylene blue by sunlight irradiation". I am not making this up.

Anonymous said...

It would indeed be hard to make this up... So, now we are transmuting pomegranates into custard apples? Is there are a journal of fruit/vegetable-themed nanotech?

I also wonder why nobody has attempted the synthesis of nanoparticles from Cow Urine Cola. Used to be popular refreshment in India and not as bad as it sounds...