Wind Power Economics and the Ability to Focus

Kevin Drum re-posts a chart on wind power made by Stuart Staniford showing that the number of new wind power plants installed in 2010 was way lower than in 2009 or 2008:


This is meant as a starting point for discussion about the big economic issues that might’ve caused this. One of the many, many reasons I’ll never make it as a political pundit, though, is that when I see a graph like this, I’m inexorably drawn to speculating about aspects of it that really have nothing to do with the intended point. In this particular case, I look at this graphic and ask myself “Why are there so many wind power plants installed in the fourth quarter every year?”

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Media Skills for Scientists

Everybody’s favorite science-and-politics blogger has posted a video clip showing part of what’s wrong in science communication. It’s a clip from the BBC from last December, featuring one of those head-to-head quasi-debates about “Climategate” between Prof. Andrew Watson of the University of East Anglia and political consultant Marc Morano, who has made himself a nice little media niche as the go-to guy for climate change denial:

I don’t think this is quite as damning as Chris says, but it’s pretty bad. What you see here is a competition between a scientist and somebody who knows how the media works, and it doesn’t end well.

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I Am Baffled Regarding Chris Mooney

The kerfuffle of the moment in the science blogosphere once again relates to Chris Mooney, who is pretty much a kerfuffle looking for a place to happen at this point. This time around it centers around a Washington Post op-ed that is basically the executive summary of a American Academy of Arts and Sciences paper that is itself the executive summary version of a series of four workshops on science and the public. You can get a reasonable sense of the kerfuffle from the links in Chris’s responses to the responses.

I’m currently making one of my intermittent attempts to be a better person– trying to eat less, biking to work, etc– so I did the responsible blogger thing and read the whole AAAS paper (which you can download for free at the link above), and I’m baffled. Not by the paper itself, which is very clearly written and not overly complicated.

I’m baffled by the reaction.

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The Faulty Fluid Dynamics of Hotel Environmentalism

i-c515e11e77187da962f223ebd7dc640f-westin_shower.jpgBoskone this past weekend was held at the Westin Waterfront in Boston, which has these funky double showerheads that they charmingly call the “Heavenly(R) Shower” (hype aside, they are very nice showers). The picture at right is courtesy of lannalee on Twitter, as I didn’t bring a camera.

Why am I telling you this? Because there was a sign glued to the wall in the shower that read:

Refresh yourself, restore our world

One of your Heavenly(R) Shower heads has been turned off in an effort to minimize water usage and protect one of our most precious natural resources.

The smarmy enviroweenieness of this was undercut somewhat by the next paragraph, which explained that you could turn it back on by pushing a little button on the showerhead (you can see one side of it on the lower head in the picture). And also by the fact that it’s a completely stupid statement.

Turning off one of the two showerheads does essentially nothing to reduce the water usage. The flow rate of water coming into the shower is determined by the pressure and cross-sectional area of the pipes. If you turn off one of the two showerheads, it just makes the water come out of the other one faster– at twice the speed, in the ideal case, which means you use just as much water per second in the shower with one head as with two. This is why putting your thumb over the end of the garden hose makes the water spray out so much farther– the same amount of water needs to pass through a much smaller opening, so it has to move much faster on the way out. The only way turning one showerhead off can reduce the water usage by making showering slightly less pleasant, and thus getting people to take shorter showers.

But that’s the ideal case– does it hold up in reality? And, more importantly, can we test this?

Of course we can test this– we’re physicists. Well, I am. Also, I’m enough of a dork to want to check this out experimentally.

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