Ideas Should Not Be Rejected Just Because They Disagree with Reigning Theory

(p. 107) . . . Claude Bernard, the nineteenth-century founder of experimental medicine, . . . famously said, “If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory.”

Source:
Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.
(Note: ellipses added.)

The Invention of the Vacuum Tube as a Revolutionary Event

(p. A11) Mr. Bryce’s engrossing survey has two purposes. The first is to refute pessimists who claim that technology-driven economic growth will burn through the planet’s resources and lead to catastrophe. “We are living in a world equipped with physical-science capabilities that stagger the imagination,” he writes. “If we want to bring more people out of poverty, we must embrace [technological innovation], not reject it.” The book’s other purpose is to persuade climate-change fundamentalists that they are standing on the wrong side of history. Instead of saving the planet by going backward to Don Quixote’s windmills, they need to take a progressive approach to technology itself, he says, striving to make nuclear power safer, for instance, and using the hydrocarbon revolution sparked by fracking and deep-offshore exploration to bridge the way to the future.
. . .
Mr. Bryce focuses in particular on the vacuum tube, designed in 1906 by Lee de Forest, the man also credited with inventing the radio.
The discovery of the vacuum tube, Mr. Bryce says, was a revolutionary event. By trapping the energy generated from the free flow of electrons and directing it to boost a small AC current into a much larger one, de Forest created electric amplification–which the transistor and integrated circuit would multiply exponentially.

For the full review, see:
ARTHUR HERMAN. “BOOKSHELF; How to Defuse the Power Elite; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 21, 2014, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper’ by Robert Bryce; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness.”)

The book being reviewed is:
Bryce, Robert. Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.

Nevada Government Lets Tesla Sell Directly to Consumers

(p. A13) . . . in addition to rubber-stamping the agreement that waived Tesla’s property, sales and business taxes for a decade or more–while throwing in discount power rates–the Nevada legislature also approved a bill last week that would exempt the auto maker from franchising regulations outlawing the company’s retail approach. The state’s auto dealers, who only weeks ago threatened to sue over the matter, shifted gears and endorsed the legislation.
“My car dealers want to assist in any way they can,” John Sande of the Nevada Franchise Auto Dealers Association told the Reno Gazette Journal. “Nevada law does not allow Tesla to come in and sell directly to the consumer, so we are going to have to come in and change it so they can sell directly to the consumer.”
No doubt the dealers balanced the pros and cons of agitating for their own self-interest against overwhelming political support for the deal and the spending potential of thousands of new, well-paid workers who may prefer a Ford or Chevy pickup over a $70,000 Tesla Model S. But the fact that Nevada legislators so quickly jettisoned a key provision of the state’s dealership-franchise provisions speaks volumes about how essential these statutes really are to the well-being of their constituents.
There is no rational reason Tesla–or any other automobile manufacturer–should be restricted from selling new cars directly to those who seek to buy them.

For the full commentary, see:
JOHN KERR. “OPINION; Tesla Breaks the Auto Dealer Cartel; Nevada lets the electric car maker sell directly to consumers. Too bad everyone else still can’t.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 17, 2014): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 16, 2014.)

Apprenticeships as an Alternative to Education Credentials

(p. R3) College degrees and internships don’t produce the same quality of worker as intensive, on-the-job apprenticeships, says Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, a program of the South Carolina Technical College System. Employers are seeing “a real lack of applicability in terms of skill level” from college graduates, Mr. Neese says. “Interns do grunt work, generally.” In contrast, he says, “an apprenticeship is a real job.”
. . .
“The apprenticeship model helps us show people there’s a career path within this company,” says Robby Hill, owner of HillSouth, a Florence, S.C., technology consulting firm taking advantage of South Carolina’s on-the-job training program. New employees see the opportunities ahead, along with a clearly delineated ladder of skill acquisition and salary increases, says Mr. Hill, whose 22-person firm offers apprenticeships for IT and administrative-support employees. The company also asks employees to sign noncompete agreements as they get accredited for new skills.

For the full story, see:
LAUREN WEBER. “JOURNAL REPORTS: LEADERSHIP IN HR; Here’s One Way to Solve the Skills Gap. Apprenticeships Can Help Give Companies the Employees They Need. So Why Aren’t There More of Them.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 28, 2014): R3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2014, and has the title “JOURNAL REPORTS: LEADERSHIP; Apprenticeships Help Close the Skills Gap. So Why Are They in Decline? Some States Try Extending the Practice to More Professions.”)

Needed Revolutionary Ideas Often Come From Outsiders

(p. 103) . . . where knowledge is no longer growing and the field has been worked out, a revolutionary new approach is required and this is more likely to come from the outsider. The skepticism with which the experts nearly always greet these revolutionary ideas confirms that the available knowledge has been a handicap.”

Source:
W. I. B. Beveridge as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Fleck Made Two Versions of His Typhus Vaccine: A Worthless Version for the SS Troops and an Effective Version for His Fellow Buchenwald Inmates

(p. C7) Ludwik Fleck (1896-1961), who earned a doctorate at Lwów University while studying under Weigl, also became interested in typhus during World War I, when he too was drafted by Austria-Hungary. Fleck’s specialty was immunology, and in 1919 he joined Weigl’s institute. Somewhere between 1921 and 1923 he crafted a way to diagnose typhus, but despite this achievement, Polish anti-Semitism denied him the academic recognition that his talent merited. During this period, he would occupy government posts (until 1935, when anti-Semitic policies made it impossible for Jews to hold such positions) and, with his wife’s dowry, opened his own laboratory.
By August 1942, Fleck, though confined to Lwów’s Jewish ghetto, managed to create a vaccine from the urine of typhus patients. (Fleck’s vaccine may have been easier to produce than Weigl’s.) Six months later, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he worked in a bacteriological research unit and where he was treated somewhat better than most camp inmates. In December 1943, Fleck was dispatched to the Buchenwald concentration camp to work on a typhus vaccine.
The Germans wanted the Buchenwald typhus-vaccine prisoner unit–some were physicians and scientists, some weren’t–to follow instructions for making a vaccine that had originated at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. It was a convoluted process that involved rabbit lungs and the organs of other animals. The unit’s inmates, including Fleck, who understood immunology better than anyone else at Buchenwald, conspired to produce two kinds of vaccine: large quantities of worthless serum that were shipped to SS troops at the front; and much smaller doses of effective vaccine that were used to secretly immunize prisoners. Their daring sabotage could have led to their execution, of course, but their Nazi overseers in the camp were too medically ignorant to understand what was transpiring. If senior SS officials elsewhere became suspicious, the prisoners would supply the real vaccine for testing by the skeptical parties.

For the full review, see:
HOWARD SCHNEIDER. “The Fever that Gripped Europe.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C7.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title “Book Review: ‘The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl’ by Arthur Allen; Two scientists who worked to beat typhus and sabotage the Nazis.”)

The book being reviewed:
Allen, Arthur. The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

My dissertation adviser, Stephen Toulmin, recommended a philosophy of science book by Ludwig Fleck that I have owned for several decades, but never gotten around to reading. It is said to anticipate some of the issues discussed by Thomas Kuhn in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The Fleck book is:
Fleck, Ludwik. Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. pb ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981 [first published in German in 1935].

The Ants Answer to Global Warming

(p. C4) While experts search for ways to cope with excessive atmospheric carbon, the world’s ants may have had a solution all along.
A new paper reports that ants radically accelerate the breakdown of some important minerals into chemicals that suck carbon dioxide–a byproduct of burning fossil fuels–out of the atmosphere to form new rocks.
. . .
Ants are so effective at promoting this process that they might have played an unheralded role in cooling the planet over millions of years, the author writes, adding that if we can figure out how they do it, we could investigate how to emulate them to sequester atmospheric carbon ourselves.

For the full story, see:
DANIEL AKST. “R AND D; Are Ants Cooling the World?” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 16, 2014): C4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 15, 2014.)

The paper on the ant solution to global warming is:
Dorn, Ronald I. “Ants as a Powerful Biotic Agent of Olivine and Plagioclase Dissolution.” Geology 42, no. 9 (Sept. 2014): 771-74.