Dialogue on EmDrive; Little Ice Age; TrumpLand; and other matters

Monday, December 26, 2016

John Glenn must surely have wondered, as all the astronauts weathered into geezers, how a great nation grew so impoverished in spirit.

Our heroes are old and stooped and wizened, but they are the only giants we have. Today, when we talk about Americans boldly going where no man has gone before, we mean the ladies’ bathroom. Progress.

Mark Steyn

Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide.

James Burnham

If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983



My youngest son, Richard, is visiting with our grandson, and tomorrow I have an appointment at COSTCO to get my broken right ear hearing aid back; at the moment I’m using the left ear electronics with suitable modifications in the right (and much better) ear, thus confusing my pocket hearing aid remote control. I don’t hear much with my left ear even with the aid, but I miss it, and it looks strange to see that the control shows nothing in my right ear ad and the control in the left. Anyway Mr. Galloway will be here in the morning and we’ll put as much time into that as it takes.


With Richard here we naturally turned to discussions of space. Richard told me of a meeting with an old friend and I think one-time colleague (they were both Congressional staff members). His friend now works for Trump and is to be posted to an Assistant Secretary position where among other things he’ll write speeches for his Secretary. Richard joked about doing outrageous Twitter posts. His friend turned mildly serious. “Oh, no. I’m in Trumpland. In Trumpland only the boss is allowed to say outrageous things.” I thought about that. I’m still thinking about it.

I do not recall any senior member of Trump’s team saying anything outrageous, or even silly, either formally or off the cuff, while working for Trump. There must have been instances, but I don’t recall them. Trump’s people maintain Dignitas; that seems obvious now that I think of it; maybe it’s one of Trump’s less well known abilities.

As most of you know, Richard is a Vice President of Nanoracks, which has put up a majority of the commercial space satellites, and if you want your own satellite he’s the one to talk to. He had some thoughts on the Chinese and EmDrive, and we’ll get to that later.


A dialogue on EmDrive.

EM Drive almost certainly not true


I have to admit that I’m finding the posts on your site a bit, uh, let’s call it “optimistic”. The “EM Drive” or whatever it’s called this week is NOT “confirmed”. All that’s happened is that (my god, of all sources) The Daily Mail has made an unsubstantiated claim that has then been echoed by other equally dubious 3rd (or worse) hand sources.

What do we actually KNOW at this point? Not much.

1. Unconfirmed, sometimes anonymous sources.

2. The notions that “NASA” has tested this device and found something is also dubious and overblown. It’s really two guys in a small group at NASA, and of those two, I believe only one actually works for NASA. So trying to establish credibility by invoking “NASA” is not only a logical error, it’s also not even true.

3. The borderline hysteria that the Chinese are now about to stage a Sputnik event on us is really silly. We have no idea if that is even true. The confirmations are 3rd hand, anonymous or dubiously sourced. Note how different this is from the real Sputnik(!) which could be heard transmitting by ham radio operators as it passed overhead! (I know someone who did this!)

4. The NASA paper that was “peer reviewed” has NOT been duplicated. There is a huge difference between peer review, which amounts to reviewers saying “This is a very, very odd result, but I don’t see anything obviously wrong with this”, and independent duplication of results. I have to remark that I find it odd that you, and so many on your site who are extremely dubious of thousands of peer reviewed articles about climate change are so credulous about this reactionless drive, which has one peer reviewed paper.

5. This is the big one. This device would violate conservation of linear momentum. This is not just a principle in classical physics, but also quantum mechanics. It’s very, very, very hard to believe these low signal/noise ratio experiments. Like the recent buzz over faster than light neutrinos, this will almost certainly (and in my mind, at least, that means something like 6 9’s likelihood) turn out to be either fraud or experimental error.

6. But, we want to keep open minds. Well, cold fusion has always failed the “power my house” test, so the EM Drive can pass/fail a similar test. Put one in a satellite and see if the thing can change course.

In conclusion, while I’d love to be wrong about this, I think this thing is utter nonsense. The quest for reactionless drives has a long history, going back at least to the Dean Drive (and I know you know this), and it has been debunked every single time.

So, while this would be wonderful, there’s very little reason at this point to believe that the EM Drive really works.

Chuck Bouldin=


Come now. I doubt it works simply because we have too many confirmations of Newton’s discoveries; but it is not impossible. As it is claimed to exist EM probably is not even better than NERVA. But the Chinese Academy of Science says they thought enough of it to put a test object in orbit; possibly that is propaganda, possibly not, but I don’t think there is much doubt that they said it. If it does work, our science needs some revisions.

I do not accept your accusation of borderline hysteria, and I am puzzled by that language. I was not hysteric over Sputnik, nor was von Braun; motivated he was.

I think there is enough evidence to warrant an experimentum crucis, which can’t cost as much as a lot of the bureaucratic activities that eat up most of NASA’s budget, and is all I have advocated. Of course it violates the conservation principles. So did atom smashing violate the conservation of matter and energy we lived with until the 30’s or so. Fortunately an experimentum crucis on EM drive will cost a lot less that the first atom smashers did.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Chinese are smart enough to realize that, and while I have no confirmation that they have actually put one on their space station, I find it hard to understand why they would say they have done so, since it is unlikely the US will take one to orbit with its more limited access to orbit. To induce us to waste money because they did not do better ground trusting? For sport?

Apparently I was not clear: all I said was confirmed was the Chinese announcement. I infer from that That they did enough ground testing to justify the expense of taking one to orbit. I have not heard they claim that it worked there, and I have not said so. I am very aware that it is impossible under the conservation laws we believe to be true, and that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.. evidence. I will add that I could easily find you a great deal of government supported research, peer reviewed and published, which is probably not true and almost certainly is not significant to anyone but that published author and possibly to academic committees considering promotion of that author.

If I have misread the press coverage and nothing independent of the Daily Mail announcement is true, then apologies; I will go back and check sources.



You’ve lived through more of these than I have, but I can list:

Polywater. Sub-electrons. Lifters. Rods. The Dean Drive (and many subsequent variants under other names). Cold fusion. Faster than light neutrinos. Gravity shields. Various perpetual motion devices, one of which my friends reviewed when I worked at NIST.

In my lifetime, after 35 years as a working Physicist, big discoveries that held up: High Tc superconductors. Gravity waves (although, remember the recent bogus result with the south pole IR telescope before LIGO II made the real discovery), Bose Einstein condensation. Others, depending on how exclusive you want to make the list.

The things in the first list have certain hallmarks, which BTW, are described very well in Bob Parks book “Voodoo Science: (1) an effect which is very marginal in terms of signal/noise, (2) no experimental changes seem able to make the effect any larger relative to the noise, (3) constantly changing “explanations” for how the effect is produced (cold fusion has this in spades!), (4) the effect is often only observable to a few select experimenters, (5) when the experiment flunks a null control test, as cold fusion did very early on when non-heavy water tests gave the same “results”, the theory is changed to explain the failure. BTW, in the NASA work, the EM Drive seems to have flunked a null control test.

Consider instead the second list. All grounded in Physics. All predicted, and all well understood, except for High Tc, where a complete understanding still escapes us. All published in peer reviewed journals, all quickly and often easily replicated (a team of 4 grad. students at the UW did a “shake and bake” YBCO replication in under 2 weeks!).

Now, which list does the EM Drive belong on? Yes, it MIGHT be true. But, that isn’t really the question. The question is how likely is it to be true? Not very likely. But it makes a good Daily Mail article, I guess.

As for hysteria, when you start talking about “conquering the galaxy” I think you need a bit more to go on than what we have on the EM Drive. Maybe that’s hyperbole, not hysteria, but however you want to label it, that’s taking things far beyond any reasonable extrapolation on the basis of what we know at this point.

Also the claim (and it is nothing BUT an unsubstantiated claim) that the “Chinese are testing this in space”, followed by worries about our access to space limiting our ability to make similar tests….well, that whole line of discussion suggests that there is something to worry about, when the very, very high probability is that there is no worry, because there is no effect, and it matters not at all where the tests are conducted.

All this said: I’d love this to be true, but it almost certainly is not. And there’s clearly no reason to give this thing much credence on the basis of the reports we have.

And second, I don’t disagree with you at all about the tragic loss of US access to space. It’s appalling, it’s embarrassing, and if you count everything (Atlas, Titan II, Saturn IB, Saturn V, Shuttle), the US has built and discarded 5 operational human rated launch systems. There are many reasons to be deeply concerned about our access to space, but testing the EM Drive in a manned space station is not one of them.



So you are saying give it up, forget it, it can’t work, we know enough to abandon any tests, let the Chinese make fools of themselves if they want to, we’re investing nothing in further tests?


My last .gov job was as a Program Officer at NSF. The soul of the job is to decide “Fund this, or that?”. So, yes, I wouldn’t put a dime into this. It’s not even high risk/high payoff. This violates such basic laws of Physics, that it is essentially in perpetual motion machine territory.

Note carefully, the funding decision is not, “Fund this or not”, it’s “Fund this, or something else?”. I’d fund other things. There are plenty of advanced propulsion ideas that WILL work, but need more money. Do a good operational test of a solar sail. The ion drive that is taking the Dawn mission around the asteroid belt is amazing! I’d put a lot more money into that.


If credible evidence appears, I might change my mind, but on the basis of what we know now, that’s what I’d do.


BTW, when I was still in grad school (UW!) one of the Professors had funding for “spin polarized hydrogen” propulsion, ie, monoatomic hydrogen as postulated by RAH in “The Rolling Stones”. The trouble is that if you produce it in any quantity it has a tendency to go kaboom even when kept very cold and in a strong magnetic field. The NASA project was to produce it “on demand” for very low thrust engines so that there was never any quantity on hand, so it was a way of coupling a power source into production of a very high specific impulse fuel. I don’t think it ever led to anything, but it still could.

Not a reactionless drive, but an advanced propulsion idea that could really work.


Which is probably a good ending to the discussion.

I asked Richard what his views were; he was dismissive. The Chinese would not orbit an EmDrive system unless they had done the crucial experiments I have described, and if they had done those (months to years ago since it would have had to be accomplished before planning the orbital mission) we would almost certainly know about it; it’s just too big a secret to keep, just as the news of the Salk vaccine leaked out well in advance of the formal announcement (and before Dave Garraway broke the newsban a few hours early).

Which leads one to wonder why they would make announcements about it – careful announcements, not indicating that it worked, but that they were doing serious testing including orbiting an EmDrive. And of course we can only speculate about that. Perhaps they are doing space experiments they don’t want us to be thinking about.

And leads me to this conclusion: no, I would not spend a lot of money on this; but a few hundred thousand to finish the tests? Of course I would. The result of any sign of reactionless drive, however improbable, would be of inestimable value. That was the argument I made to Boeing all those years ago regarding the Dean Drive; and management agreed, but stipulated that there must be real evidence of a positive result however small. I couldn’t get that, and I wasn’t able to purchase the Dean Drive for Boeing (nor was the 3M team able to buy it for Honeywell) but I certainly would have if I could have done the tests.

I do not see why a definitive test would be all that expensive. Hang it in a swing. Turn it on. Make sure there is no air movement. It either hangs off vertical by a measurable amount no matter how small, or it doesn’t. If it does, leave it on for weeks. If there any measurable reaction mass you should know simply by weighing the device. After a few weeks if you still have millinewtons of force, rejoice. If not, well that’s what we expected, and you can add another confirmation of Newton’s Third Law.


Russian hacking once again

Dear Mr. Pournelle,
It is fascinating to see Republicans coming to the defense of the Kremlin; and also that Julian Assange has suddenly gone from villain to unimpeachable source of truth, and therefore all discussion should be closed.
Several points seem to be missed in some of the discussion:
1. It’s not a question of “did Russian hacking make Hillary Clinton lose?” There were plenty of other reasons for that. The question is: DOES the Russian government attempt to discredit or destabilize Western societies? To that, the answer seems increasingly to be: yes.
2. It’s not all about Clinton’s e-mails, if any. There are plenty of other points of vulnerability, such as electronic voting machines with no paper trail, and we’d better raise our game on them.
3. It’s certainly not about “is there enough evidence to convict?” The FBI is quite right that there isn’t. The CIA, however, is trying to answer a rather different question: are there enough clues for us to deduce what our rivals are trying to do? Short of a signed note from Vladimir Putin, I doubt that question will ever yield courtroom evidence.
4. It’s not all about Democrats vs. Republicans. Be aware that, worldwide, plenty of other Western governments are finding troublesome evidence that Russia is using the internet against them.
Allan E. Johnson

Of course we have never tried to interfere with Russian internal politics, not even when the Soviet Union governed Russia. Our Voice of America and other efforts were nothing of the sort.





cool things in the depths





Stephanie Osborn

“The Interstellar Woman of Mystery”



Obama Quietly Signs The “Countering Disinformation And Propaganda Act” Into Law | Zero Hedge http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-12-24/obama-signs-countering-disinformation-and-propaganda-act-law



This technology is somewhat frightening.


Let me contemplate that. And the one above.


Strain Transition

1. Your mileage may vary. This plays into the liberal fears of Trump as a belligerent warmonger, but shows that Trump will not follow the path of appeasement (at best) that has worried conservatives for the last eight years. Note, as is buried in the WSJ article, and likely is not being repeated in some of the articles about the matter, that Trump’s comments FOLLOW Putin’s about expanding Russia’s nuclear capability.

2.  The link below will probably be stopped by the WSJ firewall. You can get the article through Google, however:


and click on the first link.

3.  And as I’ve previously noted to my libertarian friends, “Draw last, shoot first” is often a workable strategy when it comes to individual self defense – if you are mentally prepared at all times to defend yourself, but opens the door to catastrophe, for yourself and for thousands or millions you’ve sworn to defend, when dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

    Subj: Strain Transition

    As all of this comes to light, perhaps people will see what a disaster BHO
     has been for this country.
   I am convinced that most of this country’s problems could be corrected if
   we stopped attempting to educate people beyond their intelligence.

It would be useful to educate them to some level; say that of the California Sixth Grade Reader of 1915? Clearly we were once able to do that.


Politicians and business leaders must make full economic calculations of the impact of the new Little Ice Age on everything — industry, agriculture, living conditions, development.”



Roland Dobbins

Politicians generally make no such analysis, nor do journalists. There have not been contingency plans for a return of the Little Ice Age for decades.




Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.



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