Dr. Pavlak's first assertion is incorrect, engineers did not devise the program to produce atomic weapons. It was policy makers, motivated by scientists, who devised the program. Additionally, the Manhattan project, the Apollo project, and the development of internet protocols were highly evolutionary projects, albeit at fruit-fly rates vs mammalian rates.
The acceptance of the goal-by-edict to reduce CO2 emissions potentially dooms a project like the goal-by-edit of "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely" doomed the legacy of the Apollo project. Both of these goals are politically motivated, not based in hard calculations of benefit to the society funding the project--the opposite of rational planning. Apollo did not establish a societal benefit of access to the moon; in fact , the Viking missions to Mars did not use Apollo launch technology, but rather used the evolutionary Titan 3 system. The next major U.S. mission to the moon after Apollo used a Titan 2G launch vehicle, a converted ICBM which was built before man landed on the moon.
The obvious strategic goal for 2050 is U.S.independence from foreign energy sources (possibly allowing North American imports), not a dubious goal of reducing anthropogenic planetary warming. I also dispute the author's assertion that evolutionary advances will have more counterproductive paths than a clean-sheet approach. The U.S.'s historical economic strength comes from the capability to innovate provided by inexpensive energy; this must be attained again for this effort to provide a real benefit to society.
The author suggesting that coal-fired plants would supplement wind generation in the U.S. is also an example of a miscalculation. Natural gas plants are used in the U.S. in such circumstances, and the cycling of a natural gas plant does not pose additional start-up emissions challenges. The author's assertion that engineers should be concerned with value is another disconcerting thesis; engineers that lead projects, programs, companies, and nations do use professional engineering judgment to make value-based decisions. Politicians usually look at cost, no the total value of decisions.
The consideration of hydrogen as a wide spread fuel without a discussion of the inherent danger it poses and the proposition to perform point of use electrolysis without consideration of its energy inefficiency, bring into question the entire system-perspective of this proposition. Finally, the consideration of an energy-commissar is the most disconcerting and historically wrong proposal presented here, showcasing the rejection of the historically proven efficiency of market solutions. I propose that U.S. energy problems are directly related to government attempts at central control, not that energy problems prompted central control. Going back to the beginning thesis of the article, the success of the atomic bomb program of the 1940's can be traced to its breadth of alternatives, with the unlikely key to its success (implosion of plutonium) not even considered by its initial architects.
posted by Paul Spause
January 12, 2011
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