The Stars in Their Courses

Imagine that astronomers discovered a new comet, one that was an exact duplicate of the Chixculub object and was going hit the Earth in 30 years.  Which would, if  uninterrupted, exterminate the human race.

Let us also suppose that the numbers work out so that a hearty effort, something like the level of US war spending in WWII, but for decades, could stop it, by making and delivering enough hydrogen bombs to alter the orbit .   We would need to design and build Orion ships, be frantically mining uranium ( and thorium), breeding plutonium and U-233, using lithium for bombs rather than batteries, like God intended.  We’d be frantically building up heavy industry, making steel and building rockets, writing codes modeling hot dense matter rather than handling social media.

Sure, it all _sounds_ good, but we would also have people explaining that no one can really predict ballistic trajectories many years in advance (although we can, really) , talking about dodgy digital orreries, saying that the anomalous precession of the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit discredits the models (nope), that Orion ships might not work ( that would be bad !),  that slight discrepancies in eclipse timing ( due to tidal slowing of the Earth’s rotation) prove that Fomenko was right.  Or that, halfway through,  having slightly altered the orbit, with a massive effort, proves that we really never really needed to do anything in the first place.

We’d have guys writing long-winded articles pointing out that Ptolemy’s model of the solar system was wrong, so how can anyone believe those that JPL puts out today ?( hat tip to SJ Gould and  Cordelia Fine).

We’d have septuagenarians pointing out that by the time it hit, they’d probably be dead, so why should they care?  We’d have philosophy professors arguing that the future doesn’t really ‘exist’.

People would make and share these kinds of falsehoods, creating their own information ecology, one made up fresh out of  whole cloth – except for a few traditionalists, flat-Earthers and followers of Velikovsky.  One full of lies obvious to everybody that ever studied the Kepler problem..  everybody who is anybody !

We’d have demented billionaires subsidizing hacks  –  hacks that told us whatever their paymasters wanted us to hear, told us that 100 million megatons wasn’t really that bad, or that it was probably our time and that in the long run good things, like the rise of the mammals, could flow from such a cleansing.  We should ’embrace’ cosmic collisions, as a creative force. Some of the billionaires would end up believing the lies they paid for !

The Washington Post would warn us that fears of cosmic extermination might fuel racism and xenophobia.  The New York Times would worry about the world being saved by the wrong people – people of color would not be playing much of a role, of course.

Still, we might manage to get the job done.  There are ways.







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204 Responses to The Stars in Their Courses

  1. dearieme says:

    Couldn’t we all just emigrate to one of those parallel universes we keep hearing about?

    • j says:

      Dear, we have tried that in the past. In “Lost in Space,” a 1960 TV series, the tight-knit Robinson family sets off for Alpha Centauri after Earth threatened to become inhospitable. Unfortunately, the Robinsons face obstacle after obstacle over the seasons, meet the evil antimatter men. It may be encouraging that in “Lost in Space” all ends well.

  2. ASR says:

    I understand and agree with the general point you are making bu this isn’t a good analogy for the current situation.

    Such a project, should it actually happen, would be a major Keynsian-style boost to the world economy, 100% employment for decades, everyone not directly on the project would be working to provide for those who are. There would be no economic losers, except perhaps the richest element of humanity who would have to surrender a considerable amount of their wealth to the project and no one really likes them anyway. There’s no obvious economic downside. The expended resources wouldn’t really matter since if they weren’t expended on this project, humanity wouldn’t be around to use them anyway.

    Furthermore, this project would generate immense amounts of social bonding, creating the kind of cultural energy that powered Athens after the silver mines at Laurion were used to build the Athenian navy and develop the Acropolis. Social and cultural tensions would be reduced. All those working directly on the project would be humanity’s heroes, a modern version of King Arthur’s knights. The rest of humanity would have a prideful role supporting them, like the crowds in “Triumph des Willens”. Ultimately the project would diminish many of the divisions that now afflict humanity. That’s exactly why Hollywood loves movie plots like this.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You don’t see the point I’m making at all.

      Anyhow, everyone would have a lower standard of living during those years and, probably, for some years afterwards.

      • gothamette says:

        Sweden, the place everyone has been looking to for guidance, isn’t doing well.

      • ziel says:

        Yes, but the salutary mental effects of stress-free life under a military dictatorship would make up for any material shortfall.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I could be wrong but I think his point not so much an exact analogy as the observation that a threat that by any reasonable standard threatens us all fails to unite us.

          • Bert says:

            Yes, I believe Greg’s point is that, given a sufficiently difficult societal problem, it more than likely will not be solved because too many people with power and influence cannot see any viewpoint but their own, that even under extreme risk to themselves they cannot be rational. World history supports that thesis. So given such human deficiency, free society has probably reached the point where its complexification has jumped the shark.

            • Frau Katze says:

              Yep. Democracy is highly imperfect. But it is better than China’s govt.

              Still, I do feel a shift owing to Covid. People want it gone. Do enough of us want it gone to accept a more intrusive government, say like South Korea?

              • Rosenmops says:

                Maybe they will find a vaccine. But a lot of people might refuse the vaccine–they think the whole thing is a conspiracy or something. There are a lot of stupid people.

    • random observer says:

      It would be a pity to be counted among those who merely support, still less merely cheer and wait, or indeed to have one’s profession and work sidelined for one’s lifetime if unsuited to the project.

      Still, nothing like a crisis to demonstrate just how large a majority of humanity is essentially superfluous when the chips are down.

      ‘They also serve who also stand and wait’ can be cold comfort. I guess Milton knew that.

      Loved your analogy though. That needs to be used far more often and in as many settings as possible.

    • 100% employment for decades, everyone not directly on the project would be working to provide for those who are. There would be no economic losers,

      They had 100% employment in the eastern bloc. Employment is not the same thing as economic wealth.

    • Pangur says:

      An entertaining troll, as the “cultural energy that powered Athens” can be summarized by one word: greed. Quick reminder that the Athenian Assembly held a vote after the silver was discovered and only just decided against a general distribution, a decision almost surely nudged along by Themistoclean meddling.

      These same mines were worked by brutal slave labor, and the proceeds went to fund aggressive imperialism of the type that gave us the Melian Dialogue and its political consequences.

      The right side won the Peloponnesian War.

      • skeptic16 says:

        I’m glad you made the point about the silver fueling an arms buildup that alarmed the Spartans. The Athenians also had help from plundering the Delian League treasury.

        Another point that should be made is that Athens got itself involved in a dispute between Sparta and one of its smaller allies. The takeaway is 1) Mind your own business and 2) Small power often get their more powerful allies in wars.

    • Frau Katze says:

      But some people would deny it would wipe out humanity. “I take exception to Newton’s so-called Laws”. Stuff like that.

      I followed a Covid denier on Youtube. He used to be entertaining, skewering political correctness. Then he grew suspicious about the chaos in Italy and how their data could be wrong. Not unreasonable, I thought. Covid could be over countered.

      But within a couple of weeks we had “excess death” data from various places. They all showed that if anything, the death certificates undercounted Covid by a large margin.

      But that didn’t stop this guy. But why? What motivates him?

      If people can seriously deny that Hitler killed millions of Jews (and others), they’ll deny anything. Just the other day I was looking at a set of photos taken by Red Army soldiers as they opened the gates of Auschwitz in January 1945. And photos of what they found inside.

      My point is not to argue with the Holocaust deniers (I assume none are regular visitors here) but to point out the lengths people will go to in order to reject what is glaringly obvious. Even when there is no apparent reason for denying it. Why do people deny the Holocaust? What can they possibly gain?

      Oh yes, they’ll deny that the scientists’ calculations alright.

      Perhaps it’s rooted in some type of psychology that once benefitted humans. For most of our evolution, the head of a tribe could easily be wrong. I’m just guessing.

    • Wency says:

      Besides Greg’s point (this is simplistic GDP-only economic thinking), I don’t think a disaster like this would bring people together. Has Covid brought people together? No, instead a seemingly apolitical act like quarantine has been politicized.

      What brings people together is having a common enemy/scapegoat/”other”. A natural disaster doesn’t provide us with a new outgroup, so everything is clearly the existing outgroup’s fault. Since we can’t blame witches, Jews, or gypsies anymore, we’re left with Republicans/Democrats.

      In my lifetime, Americans have never been more united than after 9/11 — a foreign group with which very few Americans sympathized engaged in an act that upset everyone. For a brief shining moment, Al Qaeda was suddenly everyone’s outgroup. Unfortunately for us they didn’t have any more big successes, so they faded as a threat. The left remembered it hated badwhites more than it could ever hate any variety of brown people, and certain conservatives remembered that they hated sending our boys to die in foreign quagmires, and it all broke down.

  3. rgressis says:

    Greg’s post reminds me a lot of this post by the libertarian philosopher Michael Huemer:

  4. jbbigf says:

    Not really sure what you are getting at. All those activities you describe, involving people expressing opinions, have nothing to do with the trajectory of a celestial object. The important question would be what governments did.

  5. random observer says:

    Was that about COVID/pandemic preparedness and response, or about Climate Change?

    Either analogy would work, and to a limited degree your players can stand for both the mindset flaws of left and right in modern America.

    Though on present information, neither threat is comparable to “extermination of the human race in 30 years”. Such a threat might or might not garner the attention it warranted, or it might even result in the scenario you describe, but at least it would actually be clear, specific, relatively immediate [to coin a phrase], globally equal and affecting all interests the same, and stoppable by really only one course. There’s a slight chance that would generate better focus.

    Pandemics are probably closer to that bar. Unless I’ve missed an update, even the very worst case climate change is a problem, possibly a civilization staller, even a ‘prevention of eventual expansion into space’ level threat, not a humanity killer unless the aforementioned causes a crisis of faith so profound we just stop breeding [what I assume was supposed to have happened in “AI”; a stupid fate for a species]. Unless nukes get loosed, even climate change related conflicts won’t kill the species. Of course, nukes might get loosed, but that’s just one sub-scenario. And certainly no sign of killing us off in 30 years, or even tipping us over the edge in 30 years to inevitable extinction in 500 years. The species has survived quite a lot. Even if not at the level I want.

    Pandemics, one never knows. COVID isn’t the Black Death, or most of the great pandemics, but it’s isn’t the swine flu either. The next one could be worse. Probably will be.

    America that won WW2 or the moon race or even the Cold War is long gone. It doesn’t look like those countries anymore. Can’t even run air or naval procurement and design programs anymore.

    As to POCs, I appreciate that movies like The Martian had particular Hollywood axes to grind, but I would expect the PRC proper as well as overseas Chinese and Chinese Americans, possibly Japan and India, and Indian Americans for sure, would play roles. East Asian and Indian Americans probably wildly disproportionate to their numbers. I’m OK with that. No problems with them apart from the PRC itself.

    Of course, I remember the 1980s when POC was being used exclusively to refer to African Americans. It seems now to have embraced a meaning more consistent with its words. Alternatively, apparently the rather inaccurate but inclusive “brown” to describe these disparate, experientially rather distinct groups.

    • Frau Katze says:

      I too thought of climate change. Many on the right deny that it even exists.

      • random observer says:

        I’m pretty sure it exists and even that human activity has driven some of it, or its current direction and pace. I’m less convinced of such nostrums as: it is all boomers fault (since much or most of the damage must have been done by 1946, before the idea had occurred to anyone); everyone should have risen to the call to fix this decades ago (before more than a few professionals had even heard of it, which was circa 1990-2 or so, with variations); well, then, it should have been tackled by a crash program since 1992 (scarce any society has ever worked that way, certainly not for diffuse and long term threats that just got discovered and whose parameters were not yet being made all that clear by pros; whether it could have been done at all is ?; and of course 30 years or so is not actually that long a time unless you have a crisis like our host’s- total global extinction by immediate and direct means); the people before 1992 or even after wasted all that time and did nothing for the environment (they were busy doing something about perhaps ultimately lesser but more immediate damaging and fixable environmental problems); advocacy of climate change has been clear, specific, and always honest since 1992 and we did nothing (it was rarely any of those things).

        Plus, I have no kids, so it’s easy to get blase when one is told things like “We have ten years to save the planet or it’s point of no return!” every ten years for 30 years. Or, worse, every position from “we’re dead in 100 years” to “we’re dead in 30 years” or 20. If 20 or 30 years is true, it’s too late for a problem like climate change. We’re dead. Deflecting an asteroid in that time would by comparison be a focused problem using mostly existing technology, and would benefit everyone.

        We’ve also, mercifully, reached a point in which advocates actually favour technological and mitigation solutions, and pooh pooh anyone who doesn’t invest enough in them. That’s actually an improvement over the days when climate change advocates focused only on immediate economy crashing carbon cuts and condemned anyone relying on technological development as the answer. Of course now they deny ever having had such an attitude.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Carbon dioxide was a known “greenhouse gas” going back a long time ago. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution was well underway. Climate change was first mentioned around then, as a possibility.

          But at some point a lot of crazy people jumped on the bandwagon. That stupid Swedish girl Greta has done a great job of persuading many people that climate change is a total crackpot idea.

          • random observer says:

            That’s pretty interesting- I’m only 49 but I can’t say that climate change struck me as much part of public discourse, even from environmental advocacy groups, prior to the late 80s or even prior to Kyoto in ?92. I am surprised not to have heard more of it from those sources, or for that matter from one or two of my more highly motivated high school teachers, most of whom were both NDP members and fairly enthused about ecological causes in particular.

            Of course, I could be misremembering the times, focusing on the Kyoto Protocol as a zero point in my memory, forgetting that I WAS hearing at least a bit of material on this in the few years running up to that. That’s possible. I don’t think there was enough, sufficiently earlier, to make much difference to my wider point, though. All the energy on environmental issues in the news when I was a kid and teen [1970-89] seemed to be pollution [air, ground, or water] reduction, cleanup, and remediation, acid rain in particular, Ozone Layer, selected animal life problems [species decline en masse seemed to have started getting traction but mostly it was individual species getting play], fish stocks of course though that was also being understood as a resource problem, and, inevitably, the forthcoming extinction of trees in general and in urban settings. Which seems not to have gotten any closer to date. Not around here. Ottawa is replete with trees. I even know of a ginkgo. Probably more than one.

            Whales. Forgot about whales. So prominent they got a Star Trek movie dedicated to their cause.

            These were all good things to worry about, to be sure.

            I am especially interested in climate change as an idea from the turn of the 20th century- that’s pretty advanced thinking for that era, both in terms of prioritizing that and grasping the implications of industry for the biosphere as a whole. Do you know any readings I could look at?

            • Frau Katze says:

              I don’t think anyone in the early days thought of actually doing anything. And there was no observable warming then either.

              But that it was possible was noted. I read about it in a book that I can’t recall now. However, a quick google search found this:


              That was the first thing came up “earliest recognition greenhouse gases”. The article says a Swedish scientist was the first one to note it, in 1896.

              I’m nearly 20 years older than you and I maintain that overall, the west coast (Canada) winters are somewhat warmer now than when I was in high school. But that doesn’t mean much of course. It‘s just an impression that there’s fewer cold snaps and they’re not as cold. I once saw a skim of ice form in a sheltered bay in West Vancouver. Our house had a good view of the water, That was only my observation of seeing ice on sea water.

              Of course, I certainly don’t live there now. It’s become extremely expensive. I’m in Victoria, BC from 1992. I bought a small half-duplex there. The first winter, the water pipes froze. I was surprised as I associated that with much colder climates. It never happened again.

              The book’s author had his own recollections. He did a lot of hiking and it thought certain plants were growing at a somewhat lower altitude. I’m sorry I can’t remember the book or author.

              Measurements of CO2 started in around 1959. Someone decided on it. There was a brief break but it started up again. It’s been going up steadily AFAIK.

    • Frau Katze says:

      It is truly scary to consider what we’d be up against if Covid was more dangerous.

      Yet that scenario has played out in recorded history. Examples: Black Death in Europe and successive waves of imported diseases in the new world.

  6. jb says:

    I think with 30 years of preparation the human race could survive another Chixculub. What I worry about is Swift-Tuttle. That’s something that could actually happen, and I’m not sure even Vertebrata would survive, let alone people! If the human race ever gets its act together, mitigating that risk might be a worthy long term project.

    (BTW, can we really predict, 30 years out, that a comet will definitely hit the Earth? I seem to remember reading about cases where scientists were worried about collisions with objects over a much shorter time scale which in the end didn’t end up coming all that close).

    • gcochran9 says:

      Comets can be tough, actually: upon their close approach to the Sun, stuff boils off and shifts the trajectory. Now if it hit the Earth on the way in, predictable enough.

      • jb says:

        Hmm…. Thirty years at an average speed of, let’s say, 10,000 mph, would put the comet somewhere around the orbit of Neptune. Yes, we can send a probe to Pluto and beyond with remarkable precision, but it had a radio transmitter attached, and required occasional course corrections. I’m not convinced we could nail down the position and velocity of such a small object at such a distance with sufficient precision to be confidant it was going to hit the Earth, rather than missing by maybe a few thousand miles.

        Not that this affects your point though.

      • gothamette says:

        What would have happened if the Tunguska impact had happened in Chicago, or Paris?

  7. reiner Tor says:

    A good description of what would happen. It would be even worse if it required a cooperation of all the major powers. In fact, it’d require such a thing, because it cannot be that one power spends all it has on building up a fleet of Orions and nuclear weapons, while the rest uses the opportunity to reduce its power on this planet. Or, conversely, they’d be afraid that such a power would pull ahead of the pack by controlling a fleet of Orions and a huge capacity to manufacture nukes.

    So, we’d have Russiagate and Chinagate and all the rest, too. “China lies about why it’s building Orion.” “Russian trolls spread nefarious conspiracy theories about some comet.” “Malignant Chinese and Russian propaganda about how the multicultural Western team spends more energy on promoting POC than actually getting the job done.”

  8. that Orion ships might not work ( that would be bad !)

    This is the one that’s getting to me. That the only plans worth trying are those with a 100% chance of success.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Be sure to check my comment on the previous post. I didn’t notice you here. I found a way to be at least a bit useful.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Let me add that, for the first time since 9/11 (the event that turned me against the left) I am now actually getting to the point where effective measures that could get rid of Covid, like your plan, well we can’t have them because they’re “unconstitutional.”

      I am tired of hearing about your constitution. I never thought I would say that. I am impressed by your constitution’s free speech guarantee.

      I don’t know why your plan is unconstitutional. I had to turn off a libertarian that I follow on Youtube this morning. He says the women like me that want to get rid of Covid are “Karens.” It means an obnoxious middle aged white women who typically “demands to speak to the manager.”

      I have no idea why they would choose a common name like “Karen.” I am very far from sympathizing with crackpot feminists. But wanting to get rid of Covid makes me a “Karen.”

      Better dead than be a Karen I suppose (the expression “better dead than red” was used during the Cold War).

      • mcdemarco says:

        I think it’s just the about the generation for which the name was common.

      • shadow on the wall says:

        I don’t know why your plan is unconstitutional. I had to turn off a libertarian that I follow on Youtube this morning. He says the women like me that want to get rid of Covid are “Karens.” It means an obnoxious middle aged white women who typically “demands to speak to the manager.”

        Correct, this is as un-American behaviour as possible.
        True Americans are not whining, true Americans are not crying, true Americans are not calling for cops and managers to solve their problems.
        True Americans carry a gun and use it to solve their problems themselves, as Jesus and Founding Fathers intended.

        Sadly, in today’s degenerate times, there are few true Americans left.

        • Frau Katze says:

          In Canada very few people have handguns. I’ve never met anyone who had one and I’m over 65. Hunting rifles are fairly common as there is a lot of wildlife here.

          I’m frankly scared of Covid. Just call me Covid Karen.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I should emphasize that my fear of Covid does not mean I don’t want to lift lockdowns. The economy will collapse if we keep this up. I’ll just stay here in my condo and get groceries delivered, my current situation,

      • random observer says:

        I empathize. It’s yet another of these millennial/postmillennial memes, sarcastic names, and subcultural catchphrases that keep popping up all over the place to shortcut almost anything said by anyone else. There are landmines like this buried all over the language by now.

        I guess Karen was a boomer-common girls’ name. If they were targeting Xers, the meme would probably be OK, Jennifer.

        It makes me actually want to accelerate climate change to deny them a future. On bad days. If you have progeny, or are a more generous humanist, I respect your approach may differ. I know and love people with kids, so I have more generous days too.

      • random observer says:

        I don’t really think Canada’s constitutional tradition is all that radically different from the Americans. Same roots. We have acquiesced in the emasculation of some elements faster and earlier than the Americans, so they have split apart over time.

        But too am finding this issue a watershed. I’m happy with the idea that war, rebellion, and plague are Top 3 justifications for state action and state power, not that they are carte blanche, but if there’s going to be a state of emergency these are your top tier reasons. And state power is not an alien concept to the Anglo or American tradition. For all that we fear it more than some others, and have a decently better track record of limiting it, and indeed our traditions were formed when every government was small by today’s standards.

        For me, we have embraced governments that on a day to day basis are far larger and more intrusive of our lives, as well as doing more for us, than was once the case, and I’m not opposed to all of it. But we’ve seemingly allowed crisis response and identification to get more sluggish, less aggressive, and our citizens actually less willing to call it legitimate than was the case in say, WW1. Nothing that has been done for COVID is half as aggrandizing of state power as was then common. I appreciate that movement restrictions are different, but then plague is different from war overseas.

        As long as the cops and others are kept to enforcing proper restrictions in proper ways, and not officious aunties telling people they can’t walk through the park at 6ft apart, I’m fine with it as reasonable. I can go out to buy food and meds, and walk or [empty] bus to my work as ordered when ordered. I can walk the streets, exercising self-discipline. I do not consider being prevented from travelling to visit relatives over Easter an aspect of totalitarianism, nor are such journeys mission critical to life. At least not when the lockdown has still been so short. Two months is not really that long if you still have food, meds, water, power, comms. My parents are 80. I was not about to travel inter-city to see them, nor permit them to do so to visit me, under these conditions. That is not much of an imposition.

        Now, for those out of jobs and income, as you rightly imply by noting the economy, there’s a different calculus. Protests of lockdown based on those criteria are at least worth the hearing. Not all this ‘fascists won’t let me see grandma or go to the shoe store’ nonsense.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Many have noted the irony of releasing non-violent criminals to lower the Covid risk in prisons, and then arresting someone for opening their small business. One ice cream truck driver was nabbed!

          Strange times. I could use some boredom.

    • shadow on the wall says:

      True engineering tests of the vehicle systems were thought to be impossible because several thousand nuclear explosions could not be performed in any one place. Experiments were designed to test pusher plates in nuclear fireballs and long-term tests of pusher plates could occur in space. The shock-absorber designs could be tested at full-scale on Earth using chemical explosives.

    • shadow on the wall says:

      This is the one that’s getting to me. That the only plans worth trying are those with a 100% chance of success.

      Of course, what could possibly get wrong with building structure that shall withstand thousands of nuclear explosions up close?

      If situation is really as critical as described, putting all hope on unknown and unproven miracle technology it the worst way forward. See the wonder weapons of WW2.

      Just use proven technology to build massive number of big dumb rockets and to assemble in orbit the ships to the comet.

  9. Unladen Swallow says:

    I’m guessing an asteroid would be easier to calculate years in advance than a comet, with effects of the Sun’s energy altering the trajectory of the latter. Would an asteroid be harder to deflect than a comet? Bigger bombs being needed to alter it’s course or destroy it?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Comets would in general have higher velocities ( ~ 3 times faster) & would deliver ~10 times more energy with the same mass. And the orbit’s less predictable. But there are many more asteroids.

      Bombs may not work: both comets and asteroids might just shatter. Structurally weak.

      • skeptic16 says:

        Use the Orions to nudge the comet/asteroid.

      • j says:

        They may even shatter spontaneously. That would be lucky, as small space objects are not dangerous (except when they fall on one’s town…)

      • reiner Tor says:

        Would it not help a great deal if we were hit by a shower of smaller impactors than one big one? Especially since many of the small ones might just miss our planet, while the big one in the hypothetical would cross our trajectory.

        • j says:

          The small ones will be consumed in the atmosphere. They will also fall slower (surface relative mass). Soon spce station will be equipped with laser guns (to shoot down rival satellites) and they will come useful against space objects and UFOs.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Sounds good, especially the part where energy isn’t conserved.

            • j says:

              Kinetic energy is dissipated as heat.
              You said “there is a way”. I suspect you intend to establish a planetary authoritarian government by common agreement. Should it prove impossible, then by nuclear terror.

        • Lior says:

          Blowing It up means it’s going to cover a greater surface area on impact, same principle as MLRS.

          • j says:

            Many small meteorites will not cause 2 km high tsunamis, like a big one, like Chixculub, did.

            • gcochran9 says:

              On the other hand, lots of them entering the Earth’s atmosphere at once would release enough thermal radiation to burn up half the Earth, similar to what happened when crap thrown into suborbital trajectories by Chixculub re-entered an hour or so later.

      • Lior says:

        You just need to send Bruce Willis to drill explosives into it.

    • shadow on the wall says:

      I’m guessing an asteroid would be easier to calculate years in advance than a comet, with effects of the Sun’s energy altering the trajectory of the latter. Would an asteroid be harder to deflect than a comet? Bigger bombs being needed to alter it’s course or destroy it?

      As others said, using nuclear weapons at incoming asteroid is dumb idea coming from movies. Most comets and asteroids are loose piles of material, only effect of nuclear explosion will be to turn it into pile of shrapnel that is still heading your way.

      The way to deflect dangerous object is to use laser or other method to gently nudge it to safe orbit, but this will not provide spectacular Hollywood CGI effects.

  10. Lior says:

    “They didn’t die from the comet, they died with the comet”

  11. gyddyn says:

    Sorry, but seeing how the job is done right now, civilization would be doomed 😦

  12. E says:

    Sanctions against China for their effort in planetary defence.

  13. Curle says:

    “people of color would not be playing much of a role, of course.”

    Not so. The ‘computers’ would be making all the difficult calculations just like they did for NASA. Don’t you watch movies?

  14. teageegeepea says:

    An asteroid seems like the kind of problem a sufficiently rich person could fix. So perhaps Bill Gates and Warren Buffet badger Jeff Bezos into joining their anti-asteroid project. A lot of tech guys like Elon Musk might find it cool to have any involvement in such a project. And if the government was shifting all of society’s Production Possibilities Frontier, those of us ordinary people doing our ordinary jobs could at least tell ourselves that we were doing our small part. Whereas if you’re unemployed and sitting on the couch on lockdown, you feel quite useless.

  15. engleberg says:

    Finally we’d get asteroid mining off the ground!

  16. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Consider that all of that effort would certainly open up the solar system to human settlement, Gerard O’Neill style. That would be the payoff even if the comet were not to hit the Earth.

    The analogous example in our case would be to use COVID-19 as motivation to develop anti-aging life extension. After all, immuno-senescence is the biggest risk factor for COVID-19.

  17. ziel says:

    I guess if you’re inclined to believe that the corona virus is a hoax designed to garner Bill Gates a patent on a world-wide vaccine, you might not be inclined to believe the whole “comet-is-gonna-wipe-out-humanity’ thing…

  18. German_reader says:

    Extermination of humanity is on a totally different level of threat than Covid-19 though. Even more when one considers how the pandemic is perceived. A lot of people simply don’t view the virus as a threat to themselves. They think it kills mostly the elderly and already sick, and if they’re honest they just don’t care about this enough to make real sacrifices for more than maybe a few weeks. Whereas they believe that their own risk of being permanently damaged by the virus, if they contract it, isn’t that great. And for younger and healthy age cohorts that calculation isn’t really wrong, unless the virus mutates and death rates for those under 50-60 change drastically or the worst fears about permanent lung damage etc. are confirmed. So the comparison with an asteroid strike doesn’t really work.

    • jb says:

      Even when the odds are heavily in your favor, there is always the worry that you will be one of the unlucky ones:

      Paul Garner: For 7 weeks I have been through a roller coaster of ill health, extreme emotions, and utter exhaustion

      • German_reader says:

        Sure, I’m 35 and I certainly don’t want to catch this virus myself, given some of the things I’ve read (e. g. the reports of people in their 30s and 40s suffering massive strokes because of it). But there’s a widespread perception that it isn’t that dangerous for younger people, and while exaggerated this perception isn’t completely inaccurate, at least for now (who knows if this could change through mutations, like with the 2nd wave of the Spanish flu). The disproportionate effects of the epidemic on different age groups are a major factor for perceptions of the epidemic and the measures appropriate to deal with it.

        • Abelard Lindsey says:

          I think I may have had it, in February. I had something that lasted three weeks and it was not like a normal cold or seasonable flu. People’s experiences with this virus are all over the map. Mine was mostly lethargy and difficulty breathing (asthma like) for about 2 weeks, but not too severe. In general, I felt like crap for three weeks. I know one guy who actually gave it to his cat. Both him and the cat are OK.

          The reason for the perceptions that people have about this is that the death rate is not anything like the hypothesized pandemics like the one in the movie “Contagion” (with Laurence Fishburne) or the John Ringo novel. The second wave could be more like this, however. If there is a second wave, I expect it will start in the late fall and go through the winter into next spring.

      • Frau Katze says:

        I’m seeing an uptick in such accounts. The virus seems to linger (at least in some cases) but moves from the lungs to other areas.

        It’s early times yet and if it was really common we’d surely be hearing more. There are accounts of children getting various bizarre symptoms. But that too seems to affect only a small minority.

        It certainly isn’t the flu, not even the 1918 flu.

        I checked wiki: polio has no symptoms at all in the majority of cases. It only causes paralysis if the virus gets into the spinal cord. That happens in .1% to .5% of cases.

  19. Rosenmops says:

    If the Democrats were in power they might turn everything over to the UN, and all American effort would be stacked with diversity hires. If China led the effort they would use the emergency to take over the world.

    • Frau Katze says:

      I just a received a whining newsletter from NYT, called the stalled economy a “shecession”. Because more women than men lost their jobs.

      Like the rag they are, the fact that Covid is killing more men than women is not a headline.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        Yes. My industry (automation) appears not to be affected…yet. I’m still getting calls from recruiters. I suspect one driver of the massive increase in jobs in manufacturing and other “man” areas of the economy in recent years is due to massive boomer retirements in these areas. For example, the average age of a millwright is somewhere in the late 50’s. These are industries that have not hired in large numbers since the late 70’s.

        That Covid is killing twice as many guys as women has not been lost on the media. In fact, the New York Times was touting the use of female hormones as effective treatment (and prophylactic!!??) for guys.

  20. david says:

    We could split test three solutions simultaneously. 1 being a rocket strategy. 2 being to send a colony of smart people into space for a year during collision, so they could return and try to repopulate. 3 we start boring deep into the earth and build an insanely strong structure with a colony underground. The rest of us would just party.

  21. Charlie says:

    Imagine there is a swarm of meteors that are headed towards Earth. The meteors are expected to hit now and then over the next 12 to 18 months.

    The numbers killed are not certain, but many knowledgeable people say that in the bad case it might kill up to 0.5% of the oldest and sickest people on earth. Studies estimate that the people who would die would have an average life expectancy of maybe 10 years.

    The majority of the population, including nearly all the youngest and most healthy people have little or no chance of dying. The chance it would eliminate the human race is so low as to be irrelevant.

    Now imagine that 0.025% of the population had already died, leaving another 0.475% of the population in possible danger. Some people point out that if 100% of the human race were forced to spend the next 12 to 18 months sheltering in their bedrooms it might be possible to cut the remaining death toll. Optimistic forecasts indicate that in practice this strategy might reduce the total/remaining death toll to as little as 0.2%/0.175%.

    Other people point out that locking everyone in their bedrooms would likely cause many problems including economic contraction, unemployment, reduction in birth rate, bad precedents for government action and many other uncertain impacts during later periods. On average it might waste maybe 2% of the remaining time/money/effort/life span of everyone who is subjected to it. Many other projects and the general advance of the human race would be substantially blocked during that period.

    Now imagine that pretty much everyone else agrees that the situation, the death tolls and the effectiveness of the strategy are all very uncertain. Many different outcomes and many different strategies are possible.

    Now imagine that a pundit pops up. He is a graduate in biology, but is a bit of a polymath, who dabbles in the field of meteor-ology among many other things. The expert is someone who is personally in a high risk group, though not in the highest of risk groups. Further he is one of the fortunate people whose life, profession and earnings can continue relatively uninterrupted, perhaps enhanced, even when locked in his bedroom.

    He makes many recommendations. He suggests that heaps of money should be given to people similar to him to study and comment on the situation. He insists that the meteor-ology experts and officials are idiots as a group and should be sacked outright and replaced by biologists, just like him.

    Come to mention it, he is known for insisting that pretty much everyone who is not a biologist is an idiot. When people point out that the correct policy response to the situation is unclear to put it mildly he provides abuse in response. When people who face little risk to their lives, but whose lifestyles, professions and earnings will be badly impacted speak up he dismisses their concerns seemingly without much thought or empathy.

    He pushes his position using analogies which are not very analogous.

    • Lance says:

      “up to 0.5% of the oldest and sickest people on earth”

      A mere two paragraphs to progress from sweaty WELL ACKSHULLY spergposting to flat-out lying. Well done, excellent impression of the idiots. You were doing an impression, right?

      • gothamette says:


        Another good one. (Although somewhere I’ve read that Asperger’s as a dx has gone the way of the dodo.)

      • jb says:

        If you change that to something like “up to 0.5% of the people on earth, mostly the oldest and sickest”, you at least have an argument. I expect that’s what he meant.

        (Still, that’s 38 million dead. And probably at least that many with long term health issues. It’s easy to sit back in your chair and make abstract arguments about why this is acceptable, but it’s also easy to see why so many people aren’t willing to accept it).

        • Charlie says:

          True, I made a mistake in my grammar. What you said is more accurately what I meant.

          We are indeed in an unfortunate position. Much is going to be lost. Careful consideration of trade offs is needed.

          Unfortunately there is almost no attempt to do that in public discussions. Not in discussions that I have seen anyway.

          I normally expect this blog to at least try to be rational. The analogy presented in this article clearly doesn’t make that attempt.

          • gcochran9 says:

            A fair number of new people have showed up on the blog, apparently triggered by the current pandemic. I haven’t approved all of them: some reveled in the # of deaths it would cause.
            Almost all have been assholes.

            • Frau Katze says:

              There’s a great deal of insane hatred for the entire Boomer generation. We are being blamed for mass immigration even though we were school kids when it passed into law.

              • Abelard Lindsey says:

                Vox is one of these people.

              • random observer says:

                As an Xer born to pre-boomer parents, I’ve had my objection to the Boomer Way and Boomer politics. So did my parents. Among them- their embrace of the cult of the Teenager, Pop Culture as life definer, and the generational rebellion model itself. But now my chief objection to Boomers is that they produced Millennials and Zoomers. so all else is somewhat forgiven. Solidarity!

        • Jamie says:

          There’s little reason to expect IFR to be as high in the developing world as in Europe and the US given how disproportionately the disease kills the elderly.

          Sure, now everyone points to Guayaquil and Manaus. But their healthcare systems would get overwhelmed even with a 0,1% hospitalization rate.

      • gcochran9 says:

        It’s been said that if you don’t lie on your resume, you didn’t really want the job. I think many people approach political arguments with the same spirit.

        Fuck them.

  22. luisman says:

    Ah, all these models and predictions based on measurements which accuracy is largely unknown, and for chaotic systems.

    Let me remind you that 75 years after WW2, the death count of Germans during and after the war is still unclear. The civilian deaths estimates range between 500.000 to 2 Million, mainly due to unknown deaths in POW and labour camps.

    Physics is actually quite good in making accurate predictions. Medicine? Epidemiology? Not so much.

    • skeptic16 says:

      What’s so strange is that it does not even seem like there is any attempt to get the data. California did a random sample about a month ago but nothing since that I am aware of. That data is out of date but would be useful for trending purposes. My town offers free testing but I am hearing statements about removing infected people from homes. This would tend to discourage people from getting tested unless already sick.

    • gcochran9 says:

      It’s mostly ‘uncertain’ because some people are lying – and we have a pretty good idea who.

      • luisman says:

        I’m a physicist arguing with the climate hoaxers. “So, you want to predict how a chaotic system behaves for 20, 50, 100 years?” Nerdlaugh.

        Anyway. Who’s lying, about what exactly, and can you prove anything?

        • shadow on the wall says:

          I’m a physicist arguing with the climate hoaxers. “So, you want to predict how a chaotic system behaves for 20, 50, 100 years?” Nerdlaugh.

          Pot of hot water on stove is chaotic system, no one can predict how it will behave in the future.
          If we keep heating up the water, it can get hotter, it can get colder, it can boil, it can freeze!
          NO ONE KNOWS! Therefore, turn up the knob to the max!

          • luisman says:

            OMG. Now, put that hot teapot in rotation around the earth, kneel down in awe, and call it god…..please. Also, no wanking. Then you’ll be saved.

    • Frau Katze says:

      The counts of US and Canadian armed forces dead are known very accurately.

      Many records were lost in Continental Europe in the war itself. Much of the German data on WW 1 was lost WW 2 I learned when I was binge-reading about WW 1.

      • luisman says:

        My point was, that we can err about 1.5 million people, in this case Germans. In Russia and China, I guess, the unknown number of the disappeared were much higher. Now with Cyrus the Virus, we don’t really know how many died of what – someone wrote COVID-19 on a death certificate, bodies were incinerated or rest in NY mass graves. We may never know how big these errors were.

        In Manila some gov. agencies went through a number of suburbs, trying to PCR-test each and every one. Noone came out of their houses. They were afraid, that they may test positive (with Chinese PCR-Tests which are rather unreliable, already contaminated), and then get thrown into a tent camp for 2-4 weeks, secured by the military, at 38degC w/o aircon, very little and very bad food, and may at the end even have to pay for it. People would rather die at home, infect all family members, than to hand their lives over to a government that usually lies to them and doesn’t actually care for their lives. We are ruled by arseholes and these get voted into office by people who don’t trust them – democracy or not.

        So, the answer to the posted original question, if we, the 7.5 billion on this world, would be able to work together, in order to bomb a comet out of orbit, which would hit earth with a 98% probability, the answer is “definitely not”. We cannot trust our governments, which have been elected by >50% of the idiots. This would include the tax paid scientists, which also cannot be trusted. Is there a way? Sure if Elon Musk and some of his billionaire buddies would just do it.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I don’t know much about that. Certainly the Soviets (and Russians like Putin) would want to shut down any enquiry about unknown numbers of war dead lest it bring to light their own lack of concern for human life.

          That the Nazis let huge numbers of captured Soviet soldiers starve to death is typical I guess. Putin doesn’t care about them either.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I am coming around to supporting mildly intrusive measures to reduce Covid. I am not in the “better dead of Covid than yield any ground at all to testing” crowd.

          I don’t believe the governments of western democracies would act like the Philippine government might.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I agree there isn’t much data on Germans, especially civilians. Stalin thought that soldiers should be free to loot and rape. It was perk that went with soldiering. And they had plenty of opportunities in the east.

          I don’t doubt that similar sentiments existed in the Allied armies but the top brass were firmly against it, so we hope it was not that common.

          • Regret says:

            The US military definitely comitted some abuses in the world wars, particularly in ww1. Leaning more towards brutal treatment of enemy soldiers than taking it out on civilian population. The indian wars were still a fresh institutional memory, and those routinely got ugly.

            Nowhere near the scale of soviet or german atrocities, of course. As you say, the brass weren’t willing to look the other way.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Consider genealogy. It’s a new way for certain countries to make money from people whose ancestors were from some countries. You would be astonished at what you can learn if your ancestors left Great Britain in the mass wave that followed the development of safe steamships.

      We knew our grandmother left England after WW 1. She married a Canadian soldier but it appears he died in the 1918 pandemic. She went to Canada anyway, to meet his parents and to stay in Canada. We were able to find the name of the ship she took. There was scanned in copy of the passenger list.

      In Canada there is all sorts of census data and records of US / Canada border crossings.

      There is all sorts of data! In Scotland, you can trace ancestors back to about 1800. The governments charge for all of this of course.

      • dearieme says:

        If you use Scottish parish registers you can get further back than that. Though you might have to be lucky or persevering.

        • Frau Katze says:

          The government in Scotland has already loaded all the parish records, from what I’ve heard.

          • dearieme says:

            In which case you certainly have a good chance of getting a bit further back. My wife has pursued (some of) my ancestors back to the first half of the 18th century. She reckons that she might be able to go further yet had she but world enough and time. Which she doesn’t.

            The difficulty of going a long way back is that Scotland was from time to time invaded by armies which seemed to view destruction of records as strategically useful.

            • Frau Katze says:

              Past a certain post, it’s not very interesting if they were all from the same area. They’re just your collective ancestors.

              On my ex-husband’s side, there is one thing I can’t figure : I didn’t know it until my daughter was born, she had a small birthmark that the doctor said was a “Mongolian blue spot”, that was associated with a slightly darker than average complexion. My ex had such a complexion. You didn’t really notice it unless he (or his mother) was tanned.

              Anyway, I figure this is not native to the British Isles. It’s from my ex’s maternal grandfather, who was a sailor who died of yellow fever off the coast of Cuba in the 1930s. His grandmother (they lived the port city of Liverpool), managed to hold onto her two small children, going out to work as tailor while her mother looked after the kids. There was zero government help for such women then, some told her to put them in an orphanage.

              My ex researched the genealogy on that branch. He got as far back as about 1800 but everyone was born in England. We still don’t know where it came from.

              My daughter’s two kids both have it.

              • dearieme says:

                “Anyway, I figure this is not native to the British Isles.” There seem always to have been parts where you see people who are slightly darker: South Wales (where the Romans commented on it), parts of the West Highlands (where I’ve seen it in friends), parts of Ireland (if reports are to be believed). It’s something that needs explanation, as attested by “I must be descended from a shipwrecked sailor from the Armada.” The explanation may be absurd but the desire for an explanation isn’t.

                The neolithic invaders came from Spain and France, it seems, having originated in Turkey and advanced around the shores of the Med. I think six thousand years in our isles lets their descendants claim to be natives. Mind you, they seem to have largely been replaced in the Bronze Age. But “largely” doesn’t mean completely.

  23. Martin says:


    How come science isn’t doing everything in its power to create a way to block cytokine explosions in the obese, elderly, diabetic, etc.? That is what we need right NOW more than anything.

    Surely this would be easier than to devise a vaccine that may or may not even be physically possible, plus it will have broad application for all sorts of deadly severe illnesses like pulmonary plague, ARDS, etc.

    • gcochran9 says:

      A vaccine is probably easy. But it would be worth understanding more about immune overreaction.

      • Martin says:

        We know a few things about cytokine overrelease: they are fueled by excess blood glucose, they are more likely in the elderly and obese and just about anyone who is “weakened” in any way, even ironically enough in the immunocompromised (or maybe not so ironically if a cytokine explosion is the hallmark of a failing immune system that is throwing a Hail Mary pass or bringing down the house like Samson).

        Is there any naturally selected benefit from cytokine explosions? Like, is there a conceivable case where you have a 1% chance of living if it happens and a 0% chance if you don’t have it (barring antibiotics)?

        Or, is it merely a sign of lack of fitness or genetic load (you have a “Vichy” immune system that can be hacked and puppeteered at will by any rogue agents that want to)?

      • rgressis says:

        Does this mean that, though it would be easy to make a vaccine against c19, it would be hard to make a vaccine that not only immunizes you against c19 but also doesn’t kill you?

        • gcochran9 says:

          probably it is not particularly difficult to make an effective vaccine.

          • rgressis says:

            Could you say why you think that?

            I brought this up to a friend last night who knows far more about virology than I do (though I doubt as much as you do), mentioning along the way your remark that “A vaccine is probably easy”, and his eyes bugged out, and he said, “uh … no. No, no, no. It is not easy.” I said, “well, they’ve made coronavirus vaccines for pigs and cows”. He said, “but not for people.” I said, “well, they only spent four months on one for people for SARS, but they stopped because it went away. Fauci said that they were making good progress.” He said, “I’m happy for you that Fauci said that, but they weren’t making good progress. The vaccine they were making was killing people.” So I felt pretty dumb, as usual, because I didn’t know that.

            • rgressis says:

              For the record, he thinks they won’t be able to make a vaccine for the coronavirus.

            • gcochran9 says:

              There are five and sixty ways of making vaccines and we only need one to work.

              • gcochran9 says:

                while we’re at it, many of the obstacles and delays in vaccine development people talk about are the result of choices we make, not facts of nature. For example, many people say that it will take 12 to 18 months for a vaccine. Odd: when i was reading about the 1918 flu, when the author was discussing researchers trying to identify the pathogen – he says but even then, making a vaccine would take WEEKS. And, by the way, they ( Rockefeller Foundation) did develop an effective vaccine ( against bacterial pneumoniae) in a couple of months.

                I seem to see many examples: designing a new fighter plane took maybe a year in WWII, while now it takes > 25 years. I suggest that it is something like the explanation for time required to create the world in Genesis: in 1918, each ‘day’ was in some ways really a couple of months long ( compared to 2020 ), measured in terms of people getting shit done.

              • rgressis says:

                Hi Greg,

                What are the barriers preventing people from quickly making effective vaccines nowadays that didn’t exist back in 1918? In other words, how come they could make an effective vaccine against bacterial pneumoniae in two months but the earliest anyone is able to make a vaccine against the coronavirus is (optimistically) eight months? Especially with 123 different vaccine trials going on!

  24. JayMan says:

    • dave chamberlin says:

      We can’t fix stupid, but the stupid can prevent our fixing big problems. It could be the biggest problem we have is the stupid now have a political voice. They were once a headless mob but now they have cheerleaders, specifically TV news that pulls them in, tells them what they want to hear, and gives a voice to whatever popular bullshit appeals to their stupidity. These TV news channels aren’t diabolical, just lusting for higher ratings which directly translates to higher profits. So it cycles over and over. The stupid get their simple answers to complex problems and TV channels get their bigger profits. As times change this cycle gets stronger and incorporates other powerful media outlets like fecebook, youtube, twitter, ect ect. This way the stupid fringe gains access to the mainstream.

      • cthulhu says:

        I’d say “news outlets weaponized by social media”; I find I share Neal Stephenson’s extreme antipathy toward social media and its effects.

        • dave chamberlin says:

          The problem is a stupid public. Not the media, not the social media, not our goofy president, not China, not politicians, not Covid19, and not the next problem we have to solve. These dumbshits elect someone like themselves. Someone they can relate to.

          There are a few people who love to read serious non fiction, they consume it to fill in the bigger picture, it dazzles them. They are humbled by the complexity of it, they are never certain and always open minded. Salesmen become the recognized experts, not them. They never sell themselves well to the masses. They exist is small numbers on the edges.

          • Frau Katze says:

            Even people who like to read serious non fiction may find work & family leave them too busy to read much. But even with more time, the amount of information is overwhelming.

            A serious problem: topics like history corrupted by political correctness. May have to find books written before this took off.

  25. Roffo says:

    Nudge the comet’s speed and direction by shooting a ball to it from a point behind the comet, but in a slightly different angle to the comet path, letting the comet catch the ball in an orbit around itself.
    An Orion could act as the ball.

    • NumberOneCustomer says:

      Does the orbiting ball change its vector more over time, than would a perpendicular impact of same ball? How much do you have to changes its vector, and how far away to turn it from an impact event to a flyby event. Obviously this is related to the greater gravitational pull of the Sun than the Earth. And how far away is a flyby event harmless?

      When I write the story we will capture it outside the moons orbit. Some chaos will ensue. Probably too much Seveneves on the brain.

      • Roffo says:

        The point is the added angular vector and increased speed to the now binary system comet and spaceship. The near hit would be from behind in a slanted angle. Surely they would use a drone spaceship and just leave it there to survey the comet. The gravitational forces are relatively weak and the nudge would be very gentle to keep it in orbit, maybe too gentle to get the desired result. A direct sidewise fender bender hit could be problematic though.

  26. gothamette says:

    Still, we might manage to get the job done. There are ways.

    So tell us Greg.

    I’m not here to give you stupid arguments like (cough cough) some. Our shitty lock down was too little too late. I have said repeatedly I’d have been in favor of a military quarantine of my own city by February 15, latest.

    But we dindu that. So, now what?

    Still, we might manage to get the job done. There are ways.

    Don’t be coy, Roy. Give us the plan, Stan.

    • anonymous says:

      Greg, don’t post this.

      since you are no longer as intelligent as you were, and since you are reduced to blocking people as intelligent and even more intelligent than yourself because you are either lazy, dishonest, or lack empathy (three faults you did not have a mere two or three years ago – well, except for the empathy one), it might be time for a little self reflection.

      I don’t like bullies, and you did not used to be one, but you are one now.

      You know it. It does not matter, you have lost the respect of people who respect honest people already. But not all is lost.

      I respect you which is why I am going to this trouble.

      Don’t post this, just reflect on what I said.

      And no, you do not know more about math or science or history than me.

      On certain subsets of mathematical techniques, close, on science and history, not even close.

  27. Anonymous says:

    We’d have guys writing long-winded articles pointing out that Ptolemy’s model of the solar system was wrong, so how can anyone believe those that JPL puts out today ?

    Sounds like the Discovery Institute, Ken Ham, and so on today…

  28. rgressis says:

    Off-topic, but I talked to someone tonight who knew a lot more about physiology than I do (note: I know VERY little), and he claimed that–and here I’m working from my very limited memory–that people who tend to clear C19 very quickly (read: people who get c19 but are asymptomatic) do so because their T cells get rid of the virus. However, if your T cells get rid of the virus quickly, he claimed, it means that you won’t build up antibodies, and so won’t have an immunity should c19 come back to you. Is this right? Is it true that, in order to gain antibodies against c19, your B cells need to get rid of it?

    Keep in mind, this is me trying to reconstruct what he was saying from memory. If it seems crazy it may be because I accidentally misrepresented him.

    • skeptic16 says:

      Then by all means keep your T-cells!

    • jb says:

      The New York Times recently reported on a study which found that nearly everybody who recovers from the virus ends up with antibodies. Although there are exceptions, my understanding is that this is the way things normally work with viral infections.

      • rgressis says:

        Thanks! Given that this friend said that there are definitely at least three strains of the virus (contrary to the Ed Yong Atlantic article), that we probably won’t get a vaccine (contrary to Greg’s points), and that people who are asymptomatic don’t develop antibodies (contrary to this NYT article), I’m beginning to think that he’s more confident than right.

      • rgressis says:

        Wait…the article reads, “The study also eased a niggling worry that only some people — only those who were severely ill, for example — might make antibodies. In fact, the level of antibodies did not differ by age or sex, and even people who had only mild symptoms produced a healthy amount.”

        However, my friend had said that he didn’t think people who had c19 but who were asymptomatic would produce antibodies. I think he would have admitted that people who were mildly symptomatic would have had them. So this article doesn’t actually refute him, does it?

        • jb says:

          There are lots of cases where people have antibodies but don’t remember ever being sick, so it looks like at least some asymptomatic people get them. My bet would be that most (or all) do. Aren’t antibodies an essential part of the mechanism by which the body clears viruses?

  29. dearieme says:

    On the subject of asteroids and comets and whatnot, we need a vocabulary. I offer “stellar distancing”. It’s not terribly accurate but it contains the gist of it.

    By the way, here’s a pretty good bit of social distancing: a generous two metres.

  30. Rob says:

    Greg, most potential treatments for diseases that work in vitro don’t work in Vivo. Why is that? Like, is each one unique, or is there a small family of reasons? For covid, maybe something that knocks viral reproduction down to .9x doesn’t give the immune system time to defeat the virus before the patient dies.

    It seems that there are so many potential treatments that work in vitro that getting a handle on what sorts of things are likely to transfer would be quite worthwhile

  31. mblanc46 says:

    Well, the Chinese could get it done.

    • Henry Scrope says:

      Only if someone else had done it first.

      • reiner Tor says:

        Well, it’s not a technology requiring some super creativity. They figured out 5G before anyone else, and cheaper, and it’s pretty similar: you need to cleverly put together existing technologies and overcome a number of hurdles with some moderate levels of creativity. Apparently they also managed to mount a functional railgun on a ship, something no-one else has done so far.

        While the Chinese might well be less creative than whites, I wouldn’t bet my house on it. In any event, it’s pretty clear that they are creative enough to develop certain new technologies before whites. I’m sure that developing an Orion type spacecraft (something which might’ve been possible in the last few decades of the 20th century) should be within their abilities.

  32. An interested reader says:

    “Greg, most potential treatments for diseases that work in vitro don’t work in Vivo. Why is that?”

    Typically the physiology – and pathophysiology – of the complete organism is far more complex than that of the in vitro model. Unappreciated physiologic feedback loops and unanticipated off-target effects often throw a spanner in the works.

    There’s no rule that tells you when your simplified model is correct, though there is hope that using engineered mini-analogs of complete organs, rather than simple cell cultures, might provide greater physiologic realism and so improve the odds. But there’s no substitute for the hard slog of validation in humans.

  33. gothamette says:


    Many people think COVID-19 kills 1% of patients, and the rest get away with some flulike symptoms. But the story gets more complicated. Many people will be left with chronic kidney and heart problems. Even their neural system is disrupted. There will be hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, possibly more, who will need treatments such as renal dialysis for the rest of their lives. The more we learn about the coronavirus, the more questions arise.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Ahhh, but being killed by a comet is not contagious so we won’t need a lock down.

    Am I right?

  35. j mct says:

    I think the situation being described is a ‘we have to do something really smart and drastic we have to do it right away or we’re all gonna die, well we’ll all die sooner than we normally would there won’t be anyone left,” and how a constitutional democracy would respond, it’s really about politics, not science.

    Having said that, that’s all true about republics. Our present day justifications for our type of system is that it provides us with a way to participate which is very important because we’re “people”, and we are deserving…. and other reasons that imply that political participation is some sort of self expression.

    The other, more Machiavellian one, justification, is that though republics sometimes do some things that are pretty stupid, but compared to despotisms, or pure democracies like 5th century Athens, almost never, (but not never, The CSA would be a good example) do things that are incredibly stupid. The reason given is that they are ‘deliberative’ as in they go slow, try to hear from many people, so they generally don’t go off half cocked and commit real huge blunders.

    So it’s ‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones’ put into practice.

    That sure looks like a pejoratively worded description about how a deliberative constitutional republic goes about deciding what to do. It would all work better if one’s government were led by a benevolent, enlightened despot. The trick no one has ever been able to pull off is creating a benevolent, enlightened despotism that lasted for longer than the life of one guy.

  36. shadow on the wall says:

    Maybe they will find a vaccine. But a lot of people might refuse the vaccine–they think the whole thing is a conspiracy or something. There are a lot of stupid people.

    Anti-vaxxers are of two types – the hippies who reject them because they are unnatural, and the conspiracy loons who reject them as (((globalist plot))) to poison their bodily fluids.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Thanks for posting that. I have never listened to Michelle Malkin, I didn’t know she was that prodigiously stupid.

    • Frau Katze says:

      I remember when Michelle Malkin seemed sane. It’s totally amazing how quickly she’s gone all out crazy.

      This is reminding me of 9/11 in one particular way: far too many people are responding in ways I would never have predicted.

      • shadow on the wall says:

        Now it is clear that United States, and the whole world, dodged a big bullet back in 2016.
        Imagine that Hillary won the big prize as she was supposed to do, Donald founded his Trump News Network as he was supposed to do, and spent the years since election crying he was cheated and stoking up paranoia.

        And the virus arrived, and half of Americans saw it as Clinton Chinese Communist hoax from the beginning, and refused on principle to cooperate with lockup and quarantine.

        Remember that things could be much worse than they are now and cheer up!

        • dearieme says:

          Don’t be daft. If Hillary had won she’d have nuked China and we wouldn’t be having the plague now.

          Vote for War – You Know It Makes Cents.

        • gothamette says:

          “big bullet”

          Think of a noun with greater impact. Bomb? Missile? Poisoned dart?

      • Rosenmops says:

        I’m sorry to see that Michelle Malkin seems to have gone crazy.

    • Michelle has always been eccentric, but lately she has been interacting with some seriously questionable people. She was a big-time supporter of neoconservatism back in the Bush era, so her judgement has never been great.

  37. gothamette says:

    I think some people just choose their tribe, and damn the facts.

  38. Extra credit for capturing it and giving us a new moon.

  39. CMC says:

    I’m not sure whether this would be ‘gilding the lilly’ or beside the point… but you left out the faction that would argue, “No, no, let’s move the earth! Yes, this crisis is a wonderful opportunity to develop earth ‘wandering’ capability….”

    • Frau Katze says:

      Well, that’s original! “Earth wandering capability!”

      • gcochran9 says:

        Constant jinking would leave the Earth somewhat less vulnerable to distant alien attacks.

      • j says:

        Frau, Unoriginal. The Wandering Earth 流浪地球 is the name of a sci fi novel and movie. In the sci-fi universe, China has seized the lead.

        • Frau Katze says:

          OK. For some reason or other I never cared for science fiction. I’m totally ignorant. (Although I did watch Star Trek on TV back in the early days). Maybe I never gave it a chance. I don’t have time now.

          • Le Ed says:

            Science fiction sucks.

            Why spend time on fiction? Understanding real science is not hard enough? Ok, I understand Greg is bored and is on a lose, he is smart and likes fairy tales however it does not do anybody any good.

            A huge tanks to all of you which comment on West Hunter blog, you are though provoking and that makes me feel good.

          • Earplugs says:

            The movie was a huge hit in China, and I believe it is available on netflix now.
            It’s a decent flick, to be honest, and how they entirely ignore America in the international effort montage (outside of a brief glimpse of a roughneck-looking crew) to get the earth wandering again before it collides with Jupiter is amusing.

            But, despite all that, I can’t say it has any huge presence in the english-speaking world, so it’s not something even a causal science fiction fan would necessarily have any awareness of.

          • gothamette says:

            I never did either. Well-adjusted women don’t care much for sci-fi. In terms of genre, speculative, mysteries, romances, that’s what women like. And of course, lit fic.

  40. Pingback: Doctor Mike Refutes Plandemic – Occidental Dissent

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