Thursday Throughput: Uhura Edition

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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60 Responses

  1. Dark Matter
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    Whether that was because of social justice or wanting to kiss Nichols is a little less clear.

    With Shatner it could also be wanting to stir up controversy and get attention. PR stunt.

    You still have the problem that the only images of the creature have been proven frauds.

    “Proven” as in “the people who staged the fraud have talked about how and why they did so”.Report

  2. Philip H
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    ThTH1: Ms. Nichols, like Bill Robinson, made a far greater impact outside her chosen profession. As a scientists and inveterate Trekkie, I hope that’s what she’s most remembered for.

    ThTh3: They have live streams form the bottom of the ocean (and I know some of those folks professionally). See here – https://nautiluslive.org/live/quad

    NB ~ from a science geek perspective, having images from the sea floor and deep space dueling for what’s the coolest thing you’ve seen this week is pretty awesome.Report

  3. fillyjonk
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    ThTh8: he’s talking about a nasal vaccine. Which sounds great, but when the nasal flu vaccine came out, I was told (because of my asthma) that it wasn’t safe for me to take it – so I still have to get jabbed in the arm for the flu. I also had a remarkably strong (unpleasant) immune response to the second booster (not an allergic reaction per se, though I did develop hives). I am not even sure what to do about “next booster,” which is probably coming soon – my doctor, who had been pushing me to take the shingles vaccine, upon hearing me describe my reaction to the booster, said “okay, you need to wait six months before you try Shingrix”

    I’m thinking I may need to consult an immunologist or allergist before taking another COVID booster.

    I was down for two days (as in: having to lie down for part of the day) and felt not-quite-right for the better part of a week. Not sure how I’d have fared during the regular semester where I’m teaching 3 or 4 classes a day….

    But man, a nasal vaccine that would be safe for everyone? That would be fantastic, especially for those of us who really hate needles.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to fillyjonk
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      My two shoots and first booster knocked me out for a day each and I was lucky enough to feel good on day 2… but the one time I felt cocky enough to go for a jog, I ran out of gas not even a third of the way through.

      Given that we’re now on the other side of using Greek letters and now talking about BA.X variants (we’re still on BA.5, I guess… the good news is that we’re not yet on BA.6), I find myself confused as to what even the medium-term plan is.

      I’m not scheduled to get a (second) booster until I turn 50 but I still find myself wondering whether it’d be more worth my while to wait for an Omicron booster than get a second booster for a variant that doesn’t seem to be in play anymore.Report

      • Slade the Leveller in reply to Jaybird
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        I had the same quandary. I recently got booster #2 despite its waning efficacy.

        The after effects seem to be waning for me. I was a little tired the next day and totally fine the day after that. Much easier than prior shots.

        Shingles no. 2, however, knocked me right on my keister the next day. Fine the day after.Report

      • Fish in reply to Jaybird
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        I didn’t experience a single significant side effect from any of the three COVID shots, nor did I see anything from Shingrix #1 aside from a sore arm, which frankly doesn’t count. My calendar is telling me that I need to schedule Shingrix #2 this coming Monday, I’m thinking that maybe boy #2 should get his COVID booster before he leaves for college, and I’m probably going to wait until something significant changes in what we’re getting for COVID vaccines before I go for booster #2.Report

      • fillyjonk in reply to Jaybird
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        they’re now saying to wait for the Omicron specific ones, they should be available this fall.

        I took the plain old booster and probably too early, I’ll have to hold back six months or more before getting the specific booster. But I admit I also worry about how much of a reaction I’ll have after the NEXT booster.Report

  4. North
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    ThTh1 A titan, now departed. Though, thankfully, at an age where it is merely sad rather than tragic.

    ThTh12 Surely this was Merkle’s’ unambiguously worst policy decision in her long career. There was, flat out, no upside and the impacts environmentally, economically and geo-strategically have been toweringly bad.Report

    • Pinky in reply to North
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      At the risk of shifting to politics: do you know anyone who is anti-nuclear (at least more than a vague unease)? I think it’s been 30 years since I encountered an extremely anti-nuker, and I’ve known many extreme pro-nukers in that time.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Pinky
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        The few folks I know IRL who object to nuclear power do so from either a waste disposal politics standpoint, or a Fukashima/Chernobyl/TMI standpoint where the mear possibility – however improbable it is – of a disaster is simply too much risk for them. I take the waste folks seriously as its an issue that has to be dealt with; the China Syndrome folks not so much.Report

        • North in reply to Philip H
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          I mean the waste issue is mainly a public policy issue. Reprocess the waste and your waste volume drops enormously and is not much of an issue. But since Carter waste reprocessing has been illegal.Report

          • Pinky in reply to North
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            Reprocessing seems like the lowest-possible-hanging fruit. Like, so low it’s a root vegetable. “Do this and we’ll have more energy and less waste.” It’s one of the things that inspired my original inquiry. I suspect that nuclear power just isn’t the third rail it used to be.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to North
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            Assume it’s legal. Propose a site. To make it interesting, at least make an effort to minimize the total distance the spent fuel waste and new reprocessed fuel has to be hauled between the new facility and the existing reactors.Report

            • North in reply to Michael Cain
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              Assuming such a plant was mostly reprocessing for the US Northeast then maybe someplace in Ohio would be a good location. Good freight lines- plenty of water- could use the juice.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to North
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                We’ll get to see how much support there is in Ohio. The Ohio House has passed, and sent to their Senate, a bill to “encourage” development and deployment in Ohio of molten-salt reactor technology with an emphasis on recycling spent fuel. The definition of encourage does not appear to include any money beyond funding a commission and its staff.

                The company whose technology is being pushed by the bill sponsors appears to be in the stage of “We have a paper design, but there’s no real money behind us.” While I’m not a supporter other than as an insurance policy if it turns out the Western Interconnect renewables problem is harder than the national labs all seem to think, I’d bet on the Gates/Buffett molten-salt proposal to be built in Wyoming. At least they’ve got a billion or three dollars of their own, have signed up a potentially large customer (Pacificorp), and engaged engineering talent that’s been through the NRC licensing grinder before (GE Hitachi).Report

              • North in reply to Michael Cain
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                Yup, the Canadians are deploying some interesting small modular reactors too. I have no dog in the fight as to questions about what specific kind of nuclear generation to use but I still think it’s probably going to be needed absent some significant improvements in storage or battery technology.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Philip H
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          I am a cautious convert to the idea of increased nuclear power, at least as the “least bad” alternative.

          What proponents need to acknowledge is that yes, nuclear accidents are nearly inevitable, if only because there is no such thing as perfect anything.

          I was struck when watching Chernobyl, how the scientist played by Jared Harris is asked by a colleague to explian how that type of reactor could possibly explode, and he couldn’t.
          He wasn’t stupid, he wasn’t trying to lie or cover anything up, but literally none of the engineers who created it realized that the series of events could have that result.

          I recall reading much the same about Fukushima, that somehow the combination of earthquake/ tsunami/ flooded generators wasn’t foreseen or dealt with in the design.

          Its not a knock on the technology; I’ve witnessed a freeway bridge collapse in the 1971 earthquake, then was rebuilt using much better, newer and superior engineering only to collapse once again in the 1994 earthquake.
          And is now been rebuilt using much better, newer and superior technology.

          This is just how we learn by experiencing failures and learning lessons each time.

          So we would be better off if this were more widely acknowledged.

          OTOH…Environmentalists also need to be better about acknowledging that solving climate change will have a cost, and likely a significant sacrifice on some level in how we live our lives. Things will cost more, be less convenient, require more of this or that.

          Because nothing will ever be as cheap as just extracting a resource like coal, using it, then dumping the waste somewhere (like the atmosphere) without bothering to clean it up or address the side effects.Report

          • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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            Chernobyl was inferior when it was created. That’s over and above turning any discovered flaws into state secrets.

            I view it as a massive flaw in communism rather than nuclear power.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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              Honest question- when Chernibyl was constructed, did the community of world’s nuclear plant engineers consider it inferior?
              Were there papers written warning that the boron tipped cooling rods would cause a dangerous spike in power when they were inserted leading to an explosion?

              Or was this a flaw not foreseen by anybody, including Westerners?

              Same question for Fukushima.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Chip Daniels
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                For Fukushimi, there were 23 of the same type reactor built in the US. The correction for Fukushimi was, “Build the damn thing much farther up the hillside, even if it makes pumping the ocean water used for cooling the power generation loop harder.”

                For Chernobyl — no one outside of the Soviet Union ever built a water-cooled graphite-moderated reactor because the large positive void coefficient creates so many failure modes. “Unsafe” counts as inferior and was well understood.

                CANDU reactors also have positive void coefficients, but are designed for the feedback loop to develop much more slowly.

                Graphite moderation is not inherently bad, but has to be designed around. A couple of helium-cooled graphite-moderated reactors were built in the West (one 30 miles down the road from me) but were designed to reach a stable state below the melting/ignition temperatures of all the components even if all the coolant was lost. When Fort St. Vrain was decommissioned, the fuel load was transferred to a storage facility that takes advantage of that. It’s not “spent fuel” in the usual sense, it was still usable.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain
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                That’s good to know.

                I’m actually arguing in support of nuclear power in case it isn’t obvious, by likening it to any other kind of engineering, where failures are to be expected.

                Nobody ever goes around saying “Sure, that ship sank, but this next one can’t possibly sink because reasons!”
                Even if it is very well designed and built because yes, every ship CAN sink and will, under a certain set of circumstances.

                So yeah, nuclear power is probably on balance the least bad way to produce energy. But we should be forthright in saying that there will be accidents because of factors we don’t even know about yet.Report

              • North in reply to Chip Daniels
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                In addition to everything Michael said Chernobyl was also built without a containment building. I struggle to even find the words to describe how insane that was to do. I agree with Dark- Chernobyl wasn’t so much nuclear power as it was Soviet Communism.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to North
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                Fort St. Vrain was built without the traditional heavy-duty domed containment building. Much different design. The unique spent fuel is stored near the plant site in non-standard containers — not transport rated — cooled by natural air circulation.Report

              • North in reply to Michael Cain
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                I mean, on one hand in a strictly literal sense yes it didn’t have a traditional prestressed-domed containment building. On the other hand it did have a steel frame containment structure and the reactor core was contained within a prestressed concrete reactor pressure vessel. Chenobyls’ reactor core was basically just sitting in a glorified office building.

                This is without even discussing that Fort St. Vrain was not a conventional design and was a much lower risk of having an accident.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Link is to a NYT review in 1986.

                …The head of Britain’s power industry…Lord Marshall said the Soviet Union chose its design because it would save money…. ”We are not talking about hindsight here,” the British official said. ”This was a judgment made in advance.”

                Lord Marshall listed seven deficiencies in the Chernobyl unit, and said the British discovered them in 1977 when deciding whether to build a few reactors of similar design.

                Instead of one large steel pressure vessel as in American commercial units, the Soviet graphite reactors use 1,700 individual pressure tubes that run through the graphite. The British also use graphite reactors, but cool the fuel with inert gas, not water.

                The most serious problem, he said, is something called a ”positive void coefficient.” It means that when the Soviet reactor loses cooling water, the power goes up and the unit begins to run away because the water otherwise absorbs some neutrons, keeping them from the chain reaction. Once the water is gone, the graphite is more efficient in retaining neutrons for the chain reaction.

                A second problem in the Soviet reactor is the large variation in neutron levels, much larger than in other models. This makes control difficult, Lord Marshall said.

                ”There are four or five different types of control rods,” he said, compared with one type in other reactors.

                A third problem is that the massive graphite core in the Soviet reactor ”runs very, very hot, hotter than the fuel itself.” He said that when some of the water tubes ruptured in the Soviet reactor, the hot graphite around them probably contributed to the eventual steam explosion. In British reactors, he said, the graphite temperature is lower than that of the fuel.

                A fourth flaw, he said, is that the structure surrounding the Soviet reactor appears to be so weak that the rupture of even a single pressure tube could cause deformation. He said that he suspects that is why some of the control rods could not be inserted to stop the chain reaction when operators finally recognized the seriousness of the situation just after 1 A.M. on April 26.

                A fifth, Lord Marshall said, is that there is not enough concrete and steel around the reactor to withstand a major accident and keep radiation inside….

                The sixth is that there is too often the potential for insufficient cooling of the fuel, he said, adding that there should be a continuous system to cool the fuel by a water spray for safety reasons.

                Finally, he said, the piping system is too complex and difficult to monitor. It has been called a kind of ”plumber’s nightmare” by Western scientists.

                https://www.nytimes.com/1986/08/26/world/design-flaws-known-to-moscow-called-major-factor-at-chernobyl.htmlReport

              • Michael Cain in reply to Dark Matter
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                Good, fast, cheap. Choose any two.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                that the boron tipped cooling rods would cause a dangerous spike in power when they were inserted leading to an explosion?

                Or was this a flaw not foreseen by anybody, including Westerners?

                To expand, this is putting a microscope on something that deserves a big picture review.

                There were SO MANY flaws in the design it’s unclear if this specific one was well known.

                According to the documentary the Soviets knew about the problem with the boron rods and deliberately didn’t tell anyone, including the operators. I’m not sure if that was before Chernobyl was built but it was certainly before the explosion.

                On top of all that the operators were so incompetent and so indifferent to safety they were going to have a major accident no matter what else happened.

                Which means they were exactly like the designers and the safety inspectors and yes, the people making all known problems state secrets.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                Right. Doesn’t this list sound familiar, remind you of anything?

                Like other catastrophic failures of dams, bridges, airplanes and consumer products?

                Which is to say, that a nuclear plant being designed right now, can be expected to experience the same political, financial and cultural stresses.
                Maybe not to that degree, but the idea of a large powerful entity choosing to cut corners, save costs,, silence whistleblowers and cover up flaws rather than fix them is pretty familiar.

                Again, this isn’t to say that we should stop building nuclear plants any more than we should stop building bridges.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Again, this isn’t to say that we should stop building nuclear plants any more than we should stop building bridges.

                But “we” should stop in California. And the entire Western Interconnect, in fact. The West has a number of geographical features that make renewables, transmission, and some storage a much more affordable way to get to no-carbon electricity, and get there sooner.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                The “whistleblowers” were the rest of the world’s nuclear experts.

                This was hardly the first or only time the communists behaved in insane, heinous, or anti-science ways.

                Communism works very well as a religion pretending to be a economic/political theory. When science and/or engineering was inconvenient, magic thinking would rule.

                No matter what the theory of communism, this sort of thing was the reality. They did it in other fields and other ways too, this was just the one they couldn’t hide.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Dark Matter
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                With notable exceptions. Soyuz and the RD-180 have dominated heavy lift to LEO for a long time. SpaceX was slowly killing Soyuz even before the Russians decided to take it away from the ESA. And in some odd way I find it amusing that Congress may well have killed off the ULA by forbidding future use of the RD-180 engine.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Michael Cain
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                The exception that proves the rule.

                The Soviets imprisoned, dismissed, or (yes) executed thousands of scientists for refusing to believe that all science (meaning reality itself) was class-oriented in nature.

                Effectively this was getting rid of the entire field of genetics. Further the fields of neurophysiology, cell biology, and many other biological disciplines were harmed or banned.

                The state decided what reality was and what it’s people were supposed to think. That’s poisonous for science and the root cause of Chernobyl.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LysenkoismReport

      • Michael Cain in reply to Pinky
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        Most technology is inherently political.

        I am anti-nuclear regionally. The Western Interconnect will have carbon-free electricity based on renewables, storage, and beefed up transmission long before nearly enough nuclear plants could be built. There is a regional problem with building any sort of new thermal power plant — lack of cooling water to make them efficient. And there’s the spent fuel disposal problem. The US has never been serious about that. If we had been, we wouldn’t still be looking at the same “last 200 miles” transport problem that has existed since Congress decreed Yucca Mountain as the only possible repository site in 1987.Report

      • North in reply to Pinky
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        My mother, for one, is adamantly anti-nuclear. She participated in anti-nuclear activity back in the 70’s and, to be fair to her, the Nuclear industry and especially the nuclear fuel mining industry has done plenty to justifiably earn not being trusted.

        I less personally know plenty of adamant anti-nuclear people online who’re generally not well informed on matters nuclear and a LOT of people who’re kindof mushy-anti-nuclear on the basis of “it’s too expensive” which is the position a lot of folks who were formerly adamantly anti-nuclear have withdrawn to as if the current expense of nuclear is not, itself, a construct of existing policy which was written by actors (both right and left) who were very anti-nuclear.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to North
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      Though, thankfully, at an age where it is merely sad rather than tragic.

      And apparently with mental deterioration to the point that it’s possibly fair to say the Ms. Nichols we talk about has been gone for some years. I’m living through this. The woman I fell in love with and married 42 years ago is rapidly disappearing. What’s left is a woman with serious short-term memory issues and almost no recollection of our shared life.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Michael Cain
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        I may not understand the day to day of that, but please know that I at least will continue to keep both in my prayers.Report

      • North in reply to Michael Cain
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        My paternal Grandfather went that way. A long slow deterioration under the dual ministrations of Parkinsons and Alzheimers. I would not wish such a thing on the loved one of my worst enemy, let alone you. You have absolutely all my sympathy and well wishes.Report

      • Slade the Leveller in reply to Michael Cain
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        My wife had the same short term thing due to a brain tumor. Long term stuff was unaffected. The brain is a weird thing.

        I wish you all the best, sir.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Michael Cain
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        Oh Michael, I’m very sorry to read this. And you have my great admiration for sticking it through, making good on the promises you made so long ago. Please accept my hope that you find and maintain your strength for you, a peaceful and slowing recession for her, and my very, very best wishes for both of you.Report

      • Dark Matter in reply to Michael Cain
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        I’m very sorry this is happening.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Michael Cain
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        Very sorry to hear this, Michael.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain
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        Is there something we could do that could help? I could drive up a lasagna.

        Which is pretty paltry, I know.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird
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          We know what’s going to happen, the only question is how quickly. Absent a major breakthrough that makes dementias like Alzheimer’s a reversible condition. She still takes care of herself physically, and it’s safe to leave her by herself for a few hours.

          I’ve found a small local group of singers that rehearse and perform at assisted living centers several times a month. My wife loves that type of singing “gig”. And knows most of the songs the group uses, because the elderly enjoy listening to songs from when they were young.

          I’ve got an appointment with a recommended law firm to start restructuring the assets and paperwork. Really been dragging my feet on this.

          She’s taking low doses anti-depressants and is generally cheerful.

          Things could be much worse.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
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            Topic for one of the front-pagers… For the last two-three years Charlie Stross has mentioned on his blog — not written at any length — about the enormous difficulty of writing while his mother and father were dying. Over the last year, I have found myself in a similar position. I have multiple things started, both fiction and non-fiction, and I find myself sitting for hours with a text editor open, unable to either add or change text.Report

  5. Mike Schilling
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    ThTH1: Bill Russell died the same day. It was not a good one.Report

  6. Kazzy
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    “This wasn’t racism; it was just a bad assumption that the viruses prevalent in the majority of the population were the same ones prevalent in every subset of the population.”

    It is related to racism insofar as their testing does not include a robust and diverse sample.Report

  7. Kazzy
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    https://neal.fun/size-of-space/

    This is one of my favorite things to show the kids. It may need a major update with this new space telescope.Report

  8. Jaybird
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    The crazy thing about the volcanic eruption is that, on a geologic time scale, I missed it by a couple of seconds.Report

  9. Jaybird
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    ThTh7: A million years ago, Slate Star Codex had a post where he talked about pharma research and this section stuck with me:

    Suppose that neither ketamine nor MDMA were illegal drugs. Ketamine was just used as an anaesthetic. MDMA was just used as a chemical intermediate in producing haemostatic drugs, its original purpose. Now the story is that, fifty years later, we learn that this anaesthetic and this haemostatic turn out to have incredibly powerful psychiatric effects. What’s our narrative now?

    For me it’s about the weird inability of intentional psychopharmaceutical research to discover anything as good as things random druggies use to get high.

    I imagine that there are a handful of treatments out there that are pretty good, but have some weird stigma against them and so we’re not even considering them. Not even considering that we’re not considering them.

    We just have some weird corners where some crazy person on Facebook mentions that their brother-in-law seems to have better days when he finds a fresh piece of birch bark to chew on or something like that.Report

    • Greg In Ak in reply to Jaybird
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      Not that it matters but Ketamine is used for various treatments. My wife had it last year. Should it be used for more. Maybe i dont’ know.

      Wider point. America has become sclerotic in many ways. To many people/orgs are unable to change for a variety of connected reasons. Drugs are one example. But try to change things so we can actually change and adapt and whoa boy people dont’ seem to want that.Report

  10. MikkhiKisht
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    ThTh7 – Mental health treatment is still more of an artform combined with roulette than chemical science based on labwork. We really don’t know how the brain works, or what counts as a failure in any of it’s systems. As someone with bipolar disorder, the world can have my mood stabilizers and antipsychotics when they pry the pill bottles from my cold dead hands. Yes the side effects can be rough, but those pills keep me from doing very lethal things to myself.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to MikkhiKisht
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      Yep. Anti-depressants make the world sane for two of my relatives. Without them they LITTERALLY have no hope and no reason to live.

      Magic pills are a thing.

      They’re like 3 cents a day too. I assume they’re state of the art medicine for the 1980’s but whatever.

      Edit: And I have other relatives that are taking magic pills for other conditions too. A few cents a day and life is great.Report

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