Government Ignored Ebeling’s Warning on Challenger O-Rings

(p. 21) Thirty years ago, Bob Ebeling drove to the headquarters of the aerospace contractor Morton Thiokol in Brigham City, Utah, to watch the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. On the way, he leaned over to his daughter Leslie and said: “The Challenger is going to blow up. Everyone’s going to die.”
Mr. Ebeling (pronounced EBB-ling), an engineer at Thiokol, knew what the rest of the world did not: that the rubber O-rings designed to seal the joints between the booster rocket’s segments performed poorly in cold weather. A severe cold snap in Florida was about to subject the O-rings to temperatures more than 30 degrees lower than at any previous launch.
During the afternoon and evening before the launch, Thiokol engineers, relying on data provided by Mr. Ebeling and his colleagues, argued passionately for a postponement of the launch in conference calls with NASA managers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. They were overruled not only by NASA, but also by their own managers.
On the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, sitting in a conference room with his daughter and Roger Boisjoly, Thiokol’s chief seal expert, Mr. Ebeling watched on a large projection screen as the Challenger cleared the launching pad. “I turned to Bob and said, ‘We’ve just dodged a bullet,'” Mr. Boisjoly told The Guardian in 2001.
A minute later, the O-rings failed and the Challenger exploded in a ball of fire, killing all seven crew members aboard. Among them was Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher from New Hampshire who had been chosen to be the first citizen passenger in space.
Mr. Ebeling never recovered from the disaster. “I’ve been under terrible stress since the accident,” he told The Houston Chronicle in 1987. “I have headaches. I cry. I have bad dreams. I go into a hypnotic trance almost daily.”
He soon left Thiokol and the engineering profession. For the rest of his life he faulted himself for not doing enough to prevent the launch.

For the full obituary, see:
WILLIAM GRIMES. “Bob Ebeling Dies at 89; Warned of Challenger Disaster.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun, MARCH 27, 2016): 21.
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 25, 2016, and has the title “Robert Ebeling, Challenger Engineer Who Warned of Disaster, Dies at 89.”)

Justified Species Extinction

(p. A1) The death toll from diseases carried by mosquitoes is so huge that scientists are working on a radical idea. Why not eradicate them?
Mosquitoes kill more humans than any other animal and were linked to roughly 500,000 deaths in 2015, mostly from malaria. For more than a century, humans have used bed nets, screens and insecticides as weapons, but mosquitoes keep coming back. They are now carrying viruses like Zika and dengue to new parts of the world.
Powerful new gene-editing technologies could allow scientists to program mosquito populations to gradually shrink and die off. Some efforts have gained enough momentum that the possibility of mosquito-species eradication seems tantalizingly real.
“I think it is our moral duty to eliminate this mosquito,” entomologist Zach Adelman says about Aedes aegypti, a species carried afar over centuries by ships from sub-Saharan Africa.
. . .
(p. A8) Purposely engineering a species into extinction–or just diminishing it–is fraught with quandaries. Scientists must weigh the potential impact of removing a species on the environment and food chain. It will take years of more research, testing and regulatory scrutiny before most genetically altered mosquitoes can be released into the wild. And the strategy might not work.
Wiping a species off the face of the earth is “an unfortunate thing to have to do,” says Gregory Kaebnick, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y.
He says humans shouldn’t force a species into extinction to meet their own preferences. “We ought to try not to do it,” says Mr. Kaebnick. One justification, he says, would be to avert a serious public-health threat.

For the full story, see:
BETSY MCKAY. “A World with No Mosquitoes.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 3, 2016): A1 & A8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 2, 2016, and has the title “Mosquitoes Are Deadly, So Why Not Kill Them All?”)

Employers Less Likely to Hire Older Workers

(p. A3) Using a method of uncovering discrimination well known in economics, David Neumark, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, led a study that sent out 40,000 fake résumés to employers who had posted openings. Mr. Neumark and his co-authors found that résumés suggesting an applicant was 64 to 66 years old got a response 35 percent less often than résumés suggesting that the applicant was 29 to 31.
Labeling it discrimination is another matter, however. “The one thing that people always point out is that acceptability for age stereotyping is extremely high,” Mr. Neumark said. “The number of people who make age-related jokes are way more frequent than people who make race-related jokes. For whatever reason, the social stigma for age discrimination is really weak.”
Aside from fairness, evidence suggests that finding ways to keep older Americans working has benefits to the broader society: Working keeps older Americans happier, healthier and more mentally engaged. And forestalling retirement could relieve some of the pressure a large aging population places on this country’s social safety net.
“Governments all over the world are trying to figure how to get old people to stay at work longer,” Mr. Neumark said. “If we have discriminatory barriers, then all these reforms will be less effective.”

For the full story, see:
Quoctrung Bui. “As More Older People Look for Work, They Are Put Into ‘Old Person Jobs’.” The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 18, 2016): A3.
(Note: the online version of the article has the title “More Older People Are Finding Work, but What Kind?”)

The Neumark paper mentioned above, is:
Neumark, David, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button. “Experimental Age Discrimination Evidence and the Heckman Critique.” American Economic Review 106, no. 5 (May 2016): 303-08.

Under Communism Inventiveness Did Not Yield Economic Benefits

(p. A17) The Soviet Union may have pioneered in space with Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, but today Russia has less than 1% of the world commercial market in space telecommunications, the most successful commercial product so far stemming from space exploration. Russians may have won Nobel Prizes for developing the laser, but Russia today is insignificant in the production of lasers for the world market. Russians may have developed the first digital computer in continental Europe, but who today buys a Russian computer? By missing out on the multi-billion-dollar markets for lasers, computers and space-based telecommunications, Russia has suffered a grievous economic loss.
Accompanying this technical and economic failure was a human tragedy. Russian achievements in science and technology occurred in an environment of political terror. The father of the Russian hydrogen bomb, Andrei Sakharov, wrote in his memoirs that the research facility in which he worked was built by political prisoners, and each morning he looked out the window of his office to see them marching under armed guard to their construction sites. The “chief designer” of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev, was long a prisoner who worked in a special prison laboratory, or sharashka. The dean of Soviet airplane designers, A.N. Tupolev, also labored for years as a prisoner in a special laboratory. Three of the Soviet Union’s Nobel Prize-winning physicists were arrested for alleged political disloyalty. Probably half of the engineers in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s were eventually arrested. In 1928 alone 648 members of the staff of the Soviet Academy of Sciences were purged.
When one looks at these statistics and at the genuine achievements of Soviet science, one is forced to ask basic questions about the relation of freedom to scientific progress.
. . .
Mr. Ings admirable effort to reach nonspecialized readers sometimes leads him to make exaggerated statements. He claims that we have “good agricultural and climate data for Russia going back over a thousand years” when in fact the data is incomplete and unreliable.
. . .
The claim that the Soviet Union was a scientific state brings Mr. Ings close, in his conclusion, to condemning science itself. He sees science and technology as causing a coming global ecological collapse, and he thinks that in some ways the demise of the Soviet Union was a preview of what we will all soon face. In one of his final sentences he says: “We are all little Stalinists now, convinced of the efficacy of science to bail us out of any and every crisis.” “Stalin and the Scientists” deserves attention, but a very critical form of attention. It is based on an impressive amount of study, and most readers will learn a great deal. It is, however, incomplete and overdrawn.

For the full review, see:
LOREN GRAHAM. “BOOKSHELF; No Good Deed Went Unpunished.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 21, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 20, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Science Under Stalin.”)

The book under review, is:
Ings, Simon. Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017.

Chinese Government Stimulus Inflated Egg Futures Bubble

(p. A1) HONG KONG — China is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into its economy in a new effort to support growth. Some of it is going into roads and bridges and other big projects that will keep the economy humming.
And some of it is going into eggs.
China’s latest lending deluge has sent money sloshing into unexpected parts of the economy. That includes a financial market in Dalian where investors can place bets on the future productivity of the country’s hens.
Egg futures have surged by as much as one-third since March, the sort of move that would be justified if investors believed China’s chicken flocks were headed for an unfortunate fate.
But the market’s usual participants say the flocks are fine. In fact, the actual price of eggs in the country’s markets has fallen from a year ago, according to government statistics.
The reason for the unusual jump in egg futures, they say, is China’s tendency to experience investment bubbles when the government steps up spending and lending. China’s previous efforts to bolster growth unexpectedly (p. B2) sent money into real estate and the stock market — markets that had unexplained rises followed by striking drops.
“Many commodities prices have gone up crazily,” said Du Shaoxing, a futures trader in Guangzhou, in southern China. “We surely hope for a more stabilized trend where futures can reflect economic fundamentals. The way in which recent commodity prices went up is worrisome.”
China’s latest bubble illustrates the potential risks of its newest effort to spur growth. The Chinese economy is already burdened with too much debt, economists say. And sometimes, stopgap measures to help the economy create long-term problems.

For the full story, see:
NEIL GOUGH. “China’s Flood of Cash Roils Egg Futures.” The New York Times (Weds., May 2, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].
(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 1, 2016, and has the title “China Lending Inflates Real Estate, Stocks, Even Egg Futures.”)

Amateur Tinkerers Keep Steam Power Alive

(p. D4) Most people, when they think of steam power, they think of rusty farm tractors from 150 years ago. But there’s such a thing as modern steam power. Steam is the most direct way to get power out of heat. You can’t build an internal combustion engine in your garage. But you can build a steam engine, and the interesting thing is, it can run on anything that will burn, even sawdust.
At my farm, I have about 100 steam engines, many of them homemade, plus a library of technical papers, patents, and books on steam technology. I have Volkswagen engines converted to steam, outboard boat engines, etc. I collect and preserve this stuff. I get a lot of it from old widows whose deceased husbands were tinkerers; these women are so happy to get rid of it. Some of the engines are well built, others not, but you can learn as much from a bad example as a good one.

For the full story, see:

Kimmel, Tom (as told to A.J. BAIME). “MY RIDE; Never Before Has Steam Been Quite This Cool.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 2, 2015): D4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 1, 2015, and has the title “MY RIDE; Never Has Steam Been So Cool.” )

Tinkerers Build Their Own Pancreases, While Waiting for 100,000 Page Submission to FDA

(p. B1) Third-grader Andrew Calabrese carries his backpack everywhere he goes at his San Diego-area school. His backpack isn’t just filled with books, it is carrying his robotic pancreas.
The device, long considered the Holy Grail of Type 1 diabetes technology, wasn’t constructed by a medical-device company. It hasn’t been approved by regulators.
It was put together by his father.
Jason Calabrese, a software engineer, followed instructions that had been shared online to hack an old insulin pump so it could automatically dose the hormone in response to his son’s blood-sugar levels. Mr. Calabrese got the approval of Andrew’s doctor for his son to take the home-built device to school.
The Calabreses aren’t alone. More than 50 people have soldered, tinkered and written software to make such devices for themselves or their children. The systems–known in the industry as artificial pancreases or closed loop systems–have been studied for decades, but improvements to sensor technology for real-time glucose monitoring have made them possible.
The Food and Drug Administration has made approving such devices a priority and several companies are working on them. But the yearslong process of commercial development and regulatory approval is longer than many patients want, and some are technologically savvy enough to do it on their own.
. . .
(p. B2) “Biology isn’t quite as easy as controlling the temperature in a room,” said Francine Kaufman, chief medical officer for Medtronic’s diabetes division. She sees do-it-yourself efforts as a sign of the interest in the technology, but distinct from the process of getting a commercial device to market. Dr. Kaufman estimates Medtronic’s submission to the FDA will exceed 100,000 pages and hopes that the device will be approved in 2017.
The home-built project that the Calabreses followed, known as OpenAPS, was started by Dana Lewis, a 27-year-old with Type 1 diabetes in Seattle. Ms. Lewis began using the system in December 2014 as a sort of self-experiment. After months of tweeting about it, she attracted others who wanted what she had.
. . .
The FDA declined to comment on the project but said the agency is working with manufacturers to approve a device.
Sarah Howard became interested after she met Ms. Lewis last year. “My first question was: Was it legal?” said the 49-year-old, who has Type 1 diabetes, as does one of her two sons. “I didn’t want to do anything illegal.”
​After ​her husband ​built​ the system for her and her son, she said the main benefit is starting each day with her blood sugar in range and not having to wake in the night to check her son’s glucose levels.

For the full story, see:
Kate Linebaugh. “Tech-Savvy Families Build Robotic Pancreas; Companies work on developing diabetes device, but approval process is too long for many patients.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 9, 2016): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the Tech-Savvy Families Use Home-Built Diabetes Device; Companies work on artificial pancreas, but approval process is too long for many patients.”)