A small bit of tall grass prairie in “Silver Bog” in bloom. Photo by Dick Gordon
I am presently reading the magnum opus of philosopher of science Michael Ruse, Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology (http://www.amazon.com/Monad-Man-Concept-Progress-Evolutionary/dp/0674032489). He told me when we met recently at Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory & Aquarium (http://www.gulfspecimen.org/) that he is working on another book on Progress (or perhaps P/progress, human/biological, as he puts it) and I sent him our chapter from Embryogenesis Explained on Why evolution is progressive. The concept of progress has been a conundrum, ever since the ancient Greek atomists conceived the world as a collection of particles rattling around, bumping into one another and occasionally sticking. The idea was decried as leading to atheism. It is at the root of the much maligned reductionism, which itself may be at the root of much of successful science modelled on mathematics. We start with a set of assumptions and deduce the rest.
Atomism led to the problem of “How can there be anything new in the world?”. In other words, what are the sources of innovation? In social terms, how can we make a better world? Concepts of P/progress are indeed intimately entwined, as Ruse observes.
Yesterday (February 28, 2016) I read Bill Gates’ 2016 annual letter: More energy after hearing him talk about it on CNN. He and a number of lesser billionaires have decided that:
“…we need an energy miracle…. We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas—even ones that might sound a little crazy—if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of this century. New ways to make solar and wind power available to everyone around the clock could be one solution. Some of the crazier inventions I’m excited about are a possible way to use solar energy to produce fuel, much like plants use sunlight to make food for themselves, and batteries the size of swimming pools with huge storage capacity.”
So I tested the waters:
Breakthrough Energy Coalition
Heard you on CNN this morning. In 2009 I published:
Ramachandra, T.V., D.M. Mahapatra, Karthick B. & R. Gordon (2009). Milking diatoms for sustainable energy: biochemical engineering versus gasoline-secreting diatom solar panels. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research 48(19, Complex Materials II special issue, October), 8769-8788.(http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ie900044j)
and have since gathered an international group of scientists (USA, France, India, Egypt) working on various aspects of the project. If we ever get the efficiency of artificial photosynthesis to an acceptable level compared to diatoms, we could then go the next step. For now diatom biofuel solar panels would use live diatoms.
Our primary goal is nothing less than replacing fossil fuels by diatom biofuel. Advantages of diatom biofuel solar panels are:
- Local, rooftop production of gasoline.
- Storable energy for transportation, heating, cooling, cooking, etc., riding through the day/night cycle and wind/no wind that plague electric solar and wind energy. No batteries needed. Gasoline has 44x the energy density of the best batteries.
- Estimated 10-200x oil production per unit area compared to seed oil crops.
- Retention of the matured gasoline engine technology, including well known methods for safe storage.
- No competition with food production (the bane of much ethanol production).
- Zero carbon footprint.
- Diatom biofuel solar panels may prove to be of low maintenance.
- Total energy independence for everyone, disrupting the current geopolitics of oil.
Yours, -Dick Gordon <DickGordonCan@gmail.com>
Now Natalie and I had previously run a workshop explicitly suggesting to Bill Gates how to spend the billions he wanted to use to stop HIV/AIDS, which resulted in a special issue:
Smith?, R.J. & R. Gordon (2009). The OptAIDS project: towards global halting of HIV/AIDS [Preface]. BMC Public Health 9(Suppl. 1: OptAIDS Special Issue), S1 (5 pages). Web: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/S1/S1; http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcpublichealth/supplements/9/S1
We didn’t ask him for any money, just that he send someone to hear us out. I broached the idea with and wrote to his representatives at the 2006 AIDS Conference in Toronto. No one came. I have no idea if he ever heard our request that he send a participant, nor if he read our articles. I had to conclude that he surrounds himself with gatekeepers, who filter out potentially innovative ideas. Sure enough, here is the reply to my present missive:
Breakthrough Energy Coalition<email@example.com>
Automatic reply: Diatom biofuel solar panels
Thank you for contacting the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. This is an automatic response acknowledging receipt of your email.
Due to the high volume of interest, we are not able to respond to each inquiry individually. If you have contacted us regarding opportunities for funding, collaboration, or employment, we will keep your information on file.
So much for the support of innovative ideas. Then I read the fine print: “I recently helped launch an effort by more than two dozen private citizens that will complement government research being done by several countries. It’s all aimed at delivering energy miracles.” In the name of innovation, ideas screened by big governments will be passed on to the billionaires, or at least their gatekeepers, who will thereby receive the sifted wisdom of layers and layers of sifting out of (good) ideas. Yes, in my experience it is rare that good ideas, let alone the best ideas, survive such massive bureaucracy. Bill Gates has merely added another layer, a globalized layer, to the suppression of innovation. This is what I meant when I wrote:
Gordon, R. (1993). Grant agencies versus the search for truth. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance 2(4), 297-301.http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08989629308573824?journalCode=gacr20
I woke up early this morning realizing I had heard Bill Gates’ words 60 years ago: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”, espoused by Chairman Mao. The resulting cacophony in China was swiftly followed by a “crackdown… against those who were critical of the regime and its ideology. Those targeted were publicly criticized and condemned to prison labor camps” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Flowers_Campaign). The innovators, the intellectuals, were humiliated, as they were in the subsequent Red Guard movement in China (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Guards_(China)). We live in a milder time now, at least in places where beheadings and labor camps are no longer in style, new ideas being dismissed with “Automatic reply”.