Douglas T. Kenrick, Adam B. Cohen, Steven L. Neuberg and Robert B. Cialdini explore “The Science of Antiscience Thinking,” which includes both the denial of evolution and of climate change.
There are two issues to the challenge of coping with antiscience thinking that they do not deal with. One is that evolution did not prioritize our mental capabilities for abstract careful analysis. Food and self-protection were far more important—and still are. The other is that there are well-organized and frequently well-funded antiscience oppositions that do not have inhibitions against oversimplifying information.
MORT SILVERBERG via e-mail
In “Building a Weather-Smart Grid,” Peter Fairley describes the challenges to addressing how weather affects energy production from renewable sources, particularly wind and solar.
I wonder if the models developed to consider weather could also include data on birds and bats. Just like dams are managed for salmon, wind turbines need to be managed to reduce bird and bat kill.
Whereas wind turbine placement and blade design are effective at reducing the number of animals killed, stopping blade rotation at certain times of day—when birds or bats move through the area or during migrations—is also beneficial. The loss of generation at these times could be made part of the models and improve the overall stability of the grid.
MATHIEU FEDERSPIEL via e-mail
Fairley's article prompts me to suggest that an alternative way to profit from surplus renewable energy may be to use it to produce hydrogen by electrolysis of acidified water. That hydrogen could then be stored and could generate electricity when there is a shortfall of renewable energy.
Another use for excess renewable energy could be to power carbon dioxide–capture plants. Furthermore, captured carbon could be combined with hydrogen to create fuel.
JOHN WATSON Darlington, England
In “Crossing the Quantum Divide,” Tim Folger reports on experiments aiming to probe the boundaries of the microscopic world of quantum mechanics and the macroscopic realm of classical physics.
I am sure the quantum world is indeed weird, as Folger asserts, but the things he explains are not particularly so: If you roll a die under a cloth, it is in a superposition of six states. Lift the cloth, and you see a six. The superposition has collapsed. How is that weird?
Perhaps it would be weirder if the die were to control something physical in the real world? Not really. Take smoke dispersing from a chimney. The positions of the smoke particles can be described by a Gaussian, or normal, probability function. If one particle was radioactive, we could measure where it was with a detector, and its probability function would collapse. In what way is the quantum world weirder than this?
JOHN HOBSON Devizes, England
It seems to me that, in focusing solely on their measurements, scientists have developed a view that it is the measurements themselves that are responsible for the so-called collapse of the wave function of a particle into a particular quantum state.
It can't be assumed that this defining interaction is specific to us. It is possible that we may measure a particle to be in one state, based on interactions with our equipment, while that particle continues, unobserved, to act on all the other possibilities it represents.
Think of the story of a group of blind men all touching a different part of an elephant, all of them coming up with different answers as to what it is that they are touching. Our measurements do not show the whole picture. They show only the part of that picture that we have the capacity to measure.
D. AIDAN TUTTLE New Canaan, Conn.
FOLGER REPLIES: Hobson shows just how difficult it is to grasp the full strangeness of quantum mechanics. What is it about “lifting the cloth” that causes the six possible configurations of the die to “collapse” into one value? No one knows. Physicists have proposed different mechanisms, which I wrote about in my article, but there is no physical explanation for why we perceive one value of a quantum die rather than another—or all of them simultaneously!
As for the smoke coming out of a chimney: According to classical physics, we could, in principle, predict the shape and direction of the smoke plume if we could track each individual particle in it. But that's not the case with quantum mechanics. Unlike the smoke particles, which are described by classical physics, quantum particles have no fixed position, momentum or any other property until the time of measurement. What makes the quantum world so mysterious is not our ignorance of the details of a physical system, it's that those details don't exist without a measurement.
Tuttle describes a phenomenon that physicists call decoherence, in which complex, entangled interactions among quantum systems give rise to the world we perceive. But not all physicists believe that decoherence solves the measurement problem. What is it that causes us to see one part of the quantum elephant and not another? It seems we still need to invoke some kind of collapse to explain why we see the elephant's trunk rather than its tail.
In “Safe Injection Facilities Save Lives” [Science Agenda], the editors argue for the use of places in which addicts can consume illegal drugs under medical supervision as a way to fight the opioid crisis. The essay rings true to me. I am a Canadian, and we continue to go through the same issues of resistance to such sites, which are very much a public health measure rather than a way to encourage user activity.
The reasons for promoting safe sites are many: people who use drugs will keep doing so regardless, and is it not better to do so in a warm, dry setting rather than behind some dumpster? Additionally, clean, sterile injection equipment means there is much less chance of contracting an infectious disease. Medical costs for prevention are also much less than for treatment.
J. M. STONE via e-mail
In “Why We Won't Miss Opioids” [The Science of Health, June 2018], Claudia Wallis reports on research finding that opioids are not more effective at combating chronic pain than nonopioid drugs are.
As a practicing dentist, I can say that Wallis is spot on about the numbers and amounts of opioids prescribed in dentistry in particular. Even if it's impossible to totally ditch opioids, especially if you're doing surgery involving bone cutting, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are an excellent substitute. And there is a significant difference in pain control between 400 milligrams of ibuprofen and 600 to 800 mg. Ask me how I know: back surgery!
WES BLAKESLEE Wall Township, N.J.