Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Converting CO2 to Fuel?


CO2Membrane  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Set up some giant leaves of a special membrane that can just convert the passing CO2 into methane and oxygen? Perhaps just cap the smokestacks of a power plant and get extra methane from the CO2 that is spewed out of it? Maybe have a new converter that converts the fumes that come out of the tailpipe of your car into nice clean oxygen and methane?

Well speaking of pipe dreams….


Ok that was a little harsh. I would love for this to be real, and as good as these guys are imagining, but alas we are a long way off from there.

Lets do some basics to understand what this technology is about.

What is methane?

Methane is one of the simplest hydrocarbons there is. It generally comes as a gas, but it can be compressed into a liquid (LNG) and delivered that way. Its the same thing as natural gas and has a chemical formula of CH4, one carbon atom surrounded by 4 hydrogen atoms. You are familiar with this, because many of you use it to cook on in your kitchen. When you burn methane the result is heat (energy being released), some water, and some carbon dioxide. So it makes sense that if you can add energy to water and carbon dioxide, perhaps you can reassemble the methane molecule.

What is a catalyst?

A catalyst is a material that helps lower the amount of energy for a reaction to take place. Catalysts do not get consumed in the reaction. In biology, enzymes are catalysts. In fuel cells, Platinum is generally used as a catalyst.  In this case it looks like Titanium Dioxide was formed into inorganic nanotubes with a copper catalyst sputters on the top.


How does this work?

Water and carbon Dioxide would enter one side of a sheet made of these nanotubes. Energy would be added. It’s proposed here that this energy would be from the sun in the form of photons. None of the articles I see on this describe exactly what part of the sunlight is required to make this work, they simply claim that they catalyst-nanotube combination maximizes the use of the sunlight energy.

So, reagents enter on one side and products come out the other. Cool!


  • The stuff coming out the other is an explosive mix of gases that then need to be separated to be useful. And sadly…this will require energy also.
  • The gases will need to be pushed through the membrane, this will require a compressor or blower…..more energy required.
  • What is the efficiency? This really pisses me off about these articles. I realize that this is research, but come on. Its not useful to say things like…

Using outdoor, visible light, they reported a 20-times higher yield of methane than previously published attempts conducted in laboratory conditions using intense ultraviolet exposures

…if you don’t say what those original yields were! 20 times a the volume of a newts breath is the volume of a hamsters breath. Big deal! However, the discovery article mentions this metric:

The scientists have created thin membranes that cover either 3.8 or 15.5 square inches. So far, those membranes have produced an estimated 66 gallons of methane…Adding more light and CO2 creates more methane. Grimes estimates that focusing the light collected from 1,100 square feet onto one of the membranes would generate more than 132 gallons of methane on a sunny day

umm… ok, first off, is that in gas form or liquid form? That’s a gigantic difference! I’m guessing gas form, since in order to maintain a liquid form, they would have to keep the exit side of the membrane either very cold or under quite a bit of pressure. They didn’t indicate they did either of those things.

So the claim is that eventually 1100 square feet of space can yield 132 gallons of methane gas per day. Ummm, what does 1100 square feet of solar panels give you? Well that's about a million square centimeters, which could pretty easily yield 20kW of power from solar panels (20mW/cm2 is not high tech). That is enough to power 5 homes easily.

What about about the energy comparison? Lets get some numbers out there (yeah, I know you hate it)


So how many kWh of energy will you get per 1100 square feet of area required for their energy solution? About 50kWh of energy, or about 5 dollars worth .

How much energy did those solar panels make assuming a 5 hour sunny day? 100kWh.

What if you want a fuel, like methane? Could you grow it instead thereby gaining both the energy and the CO2 removal? Of course you could. Right now we idiotically try to get biodiesel from corn and soy (that rant is for another post someday). Lets pretend we actually get smart and try to solve how to get it from algae.

Algae could produce 5000-15000 gallons of oil per acre per year (1.3-4 lbs/sq ft/per year). Lets use the lower end. So that means this same space, 1100 square feet, could be producing 4 gallons of algae oil per day. Oil gets converted to biodiesel with an efficiency of about 98% (but this does not include the other ingredients required like methanol and lye). What is the energy in 4 gallons of biodiesel? About 140 kWh.

The nanotube material sounds great, it really does….in concept. But while they are laughing at the idea of burying CO2, the reality seems to be that solar panels and large pools of algae truly provide a better solution right now and very little new research needs to be done to provide superior performance.

I hope that the journalists were lazy and the scientists are not media savvy. I would live to hear some idea of what they think the actual potential of this material could be.. its not like they are off by an order of magnitude…but still, its not really that close either.



As a side note:this proposed technology is not new, only this implementation. The new implementation is claimed to have way better efficiency than previous attempts.

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Not Vaccinating your kid is like…

Choosing not to vaccinate your kid is like telling him or her not to use condoms when they are sexually active. Chances are that they won’t get or spread a life threatening, or just plain disgusting, disease to someone else….

Until they do.

Stop being so damn irresponsible.

Update: I'm trying to figure out if I thought of this on my own, or if I am suffering from cryptomnesia [1],[2]. Have you heard this analogy before? I kind of like it.

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Needling a Dead Horse

I woke up a little early today (mostly because I realized my car got towed last night, ugh) and was noodling around the internet. Then, in through one of my feeders, came this. Its amazing that this crap still gets published. Lets start out with the main claim.

Acupuncture can be used to help relieve the pain of cancer patients, as well as the nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy, a leading acupuncturist said on Monday

Wow really? This is amazing news! A leading acupuncturist said that acupuncture is good for something? What will happen next, a psychic will say that astrology can predict someone's future? Will a water dowser claim that water can be found using dowsing? Oh wait, don’t tell me, a homeopath will announce to the world the drinking pure water with nothing in it will have the same or better effect on disease than medicine with active agents!

"China has been using acupuncture as a form of anesthesia for 2,600 years," said Wang Caihong of Shanghai University's Traditional Chinese Medicine Institute, adding that the technique had an extremely long and well-tested history in China

Well she is right about some of that. It does have a long history, and that history has lead to such amazing life spans as 30 years. The same as bloodletting as a practice was giving us. I’m not sure that the word “tested” means what she thinks it means. Bile from a bears gall bladder was “tested” for just as long, is that a good treatment for something also?

"Nausea is caused by a blockage in circulation and acupuncture can relieve that," she added.

Nausea is not caused a blockage in circulation, and acupuncture doesn’t do anything to your circulation, it supposedly affects non-existent energy. Nausea comes from your brains confusion between what your eyes are telling it and what your ears (in the vestibular apparatus) are telling it. This can happen from motion, or from food poisoning or other things.

Wang is part of a team of Chinese doctors who are helping to set up an acupuncture center for cancer patients in Hong Kong's Prince of Wales Hospital.

Well that’s a shame for the resident's of Hong Kong who will be paying for placebo treatments.

An increasing number of studies and clinical trials in recent years in Western countries have shown that acupuncture may actually work better than painkillers for people with chronic headache or those who are recovering from major surgeries such as those for head and neck cancer.

Excuse me? Do I live on the same planet as the writers of this article? There may in fact be more and more studies showing acupuncture efficacy. But more bad studies don’t make it more right. I think there is an expression, a growing pile of shit doesn’t eventually turn into gold. Well, done studies, like those that include blinding (its hard to double blind acupuncture), and fake retractable needles, or using sham acupuncture points all show the same thing. Fake acupuncture works the same as real acupuncture, both are placebo. I shouldn’t even have to link since this is all over the internet as well as detailed in Trick Or Treatment (which I am reading and is very good in laying out how we know what we know with respect to medicine).



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Pedophile Scientists??

This story has been making the rounds. Orac hit on it as did Ben Goldacre (and others I am sure). To summarize (from NYT):

In what may be among the longest-running and widest-ranging cases of academic fraud, one of the most prolific researchers in anesthesiology has admitted that he fabricated much of the data underlying his research, said a spokeswoman for the hospital where he works.

The researcher, Dr. Scott S. Reuben, an anesthesiologist in Springfield, Mass., who practiced at Baystate Medical Center, never conducted the clinical trials that he wrote about in 21 journal articles dating from at least 1996, said Jane Albert, a spokeswoman for Baystate Health.

Unlike most other fraudulent scientific activity, like the Hwang Woo Suk cloning fraud, this guy simply never did the work, he made it up. Ben goes over how he was caught, and Orac discussed the consequences of his actions.

From Bad Science:

…fabrication is often easier to spot than selective editing…

from Orac:

It's hard to overstate how serious this revelation of scientific fraud is for the field of anesthesiology and medicine. Dr. Reuben was considered a pioneer in his field, and his work is not only widely cited, but serves as the basis for an amount of anesthesia practice that few academic anesthesiologists can lay claim to.

Ok, Reuben is a scumbag and endangered peoples lives and further, prevented science and medical knowledge from advancing forward as safely and expeditiously as it can.

I liken intentional medical and scientific fraud with pedophile priests. The possible damage is as wide ranging and as individually significant as that horrific phenomenon. Like Christians who say pedophile priests (or gun wielding zealots) aren’t Real Christians, we can safely say Reuben is no scientist.

Is there a difference? I mean people of significance perpetuate fraud and crimes against fellow people in both cases. These are people who are relied upon to confer good advice and trust. So what is the difference?

There is a huge difference in how this is dealt with in the scientific community and how betrayal is dealt with in religious realms. Consider the pedophile priests (not to mention embezzling adulterous evangelists, homosexual drug abusing preachers and so forth). There is a report put out by the catholic church that tries to put “in context” the results of a John Jay College study in 2002 that found:

  • The history of abuse in the church goes back a number of decades with a surge between the 1960’s and 1980’s (75% of all the incidents)
  • Total number of priests with allegations against them was 2.7% (ranging in communities between 2.5% to 7%)
  • Half of all allegations were made between ten and thirty years after the incident.
  • 52% of the abuses were by the resident priest or associate pastor
  • 73% of the abuses happened in school, church, the priest/parish home or vacation house


There were certainly a number of responses to both credible and unsubstantiated allegations of abuse. While many of these lead to sex offender treatment, often multiple times, these never lead to jail time, and only in in less than half of the cases were the priests suspended. It was a system that tried to prevent the public from peering in.

How about fraudulent scientists? Obviously we can’t say that there are none, there are. It may be the esteem associated with the accomplishment of having many studies under your belt, it may be funding acquired by performing studies for companies. It may also be something as simple as getting attached to an idea that they can not let go of, particularly if the idea was initially developed by the researcher (Ernst and Singh describe the case of Benveniste in Trick or Treatment, who got so married to his bias ridden results that he would never admit failure and continued to make more scammy claims on top of his original ones).

However, in science your theories do not gain credence unless you publish or demonstrate them. This immediately opens the doors and the playing field of the idea. Unlike in the church, a closed system where problems and challenges are generally dealt with up and down the vertical hierarchy, publishing puts your results out there for all to see. If your results are generally in line with previous studies and known scientific boundaries, they are generally trusted (this was the case with Reuben, the drugs had already been preapproved for other things), while outlandish claims are treated with skepticism (like Benveniste). Skepticism leads to attempts at replication and verification.

Examine the results of fraud in science and abuse in the church. First in science there is the foundation of previous understanding. When fraud is detected there are generally 3 actions, legal, loss of status, and ridicule. In Reubens case, he had not gotten approval for human trials, but had claimed doing them (which is how the fraud was first detected). If he had done the trials, then reprimand or jail would have ensued. Next the entire scientific community will no longer trust his results and the hole left by his fraudulent studies will now be filled with good data. Finally there is ridicule or chastisement, like in blog posts, or how Benveniste received an Ig noble.

Personally, if there is fraud like this that can damage the public, I prefer it to happen in an arena like the scientific community has, instead of a closed system like the church or corporations.

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Just had to share


This totally cracked me up. Bronze Dog linked to it

From Evolved and Rational

thanks, made my day.

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SCAM and animal lovers

Its is my experience that PETA type folks (there I go stereotyping again), who love animals as much as I do, tend to be kinda wooey with respect to alternative therapies like acupuncture, reiki and other nonsense. I’m not sure what it is. An attempt to be natural and “one with the Earth” and all that? Surely it is not all PETA folks who are like that, but certainly many.

For example one reason that SCAM (Supplimentary, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a term I totally stole from Skeptico) folks shy away from evidence based medicine is because we often get our evidence of efficacy from animal testing. Its not that doctors are evil mad scientists who think its fun to hurt animals, but we require evidence that something works before we try it on humans. We breed animals for this purpose, we change their genetic make up to test various hypotheses, we probe and cut to understand various mechanisms of our biology.

As a meandering side note, here is my personal experience with animal testing. For my PhD we were developing an implant for the spine that would correct scoliosis slowly over time, rather the quick correction that is currently done. While scoliosis rates aren’t near the frequency of say autism, its not that low either, between 1 and 4% of children will get it, depending on how you set your threshold for having it (a measurement called the Cobb angle is used, a non-zero cobb angle is common, however choosing a threshold of 10 degrees is what leads to these rates).

Usually what happens is that during teenage years there is a growth spurt and kids with small scoliotic symptoms may get larger Cobb angles. Small angles are often treated with bracing (its been 10 years for me, perhaps things have changed), and more severe angles, like 50 degrees, get treated with surgery because large angles can lead to cardiovascular and other problems.

The surgery has gone through its own evolution. It was first thought that just straightening the spine would correct it. It used to be that they would slice open the back, inset screws into vertebrae and insert a rod, called a Harrington rod through the screw and use clamps to push the top and bottom vertebra away from each other, then the rod would be fastened to the screws and some of the vertebrae would be fused.

Later, some smart folks figured out that the problem with a scoliotic spine was not just a bend, but it was instead a 3-D deformity and what really needed to happen was a derotation. So a Cotrel Dubosset derotation maneuver was invented. There have been many many improvements and other variations, I don’t really want to go into it, there is a nice overview here among many other places where you can see the rods and screws and derotations.

Anyway, one of the things that is nerve racking about spinal surgery for scoliosis is that the derotation or even small adjustments may stretch the spinal cord. Patients are still, to this day, paralyzed from this procedure, some even killed because their spinal cord has been stretch to much and too fast.

So my group invented a treatment to implant a small actuator that can be energized from outside the body. When you energize the actuator, it moves one increment, its not like a motor. The increment was supposed to be like 10 or 100 microns. By implanting enough of these around the spine and ribcage the idea was that you could adjust the spine over months instead of seconds.

How do you test such a thing? Well goats. We stretched goats. We before we got started, we needed to understand what the spinal cord could take, and if making slow changes even helped at all. So we implanted a device into a goat two goat vertebrae similar to an external fixator used for limb lengthening, and every day we stretch the goat a little bit. We had to try this a number of times to understand what the range was on size of the increment and frequency of the adjustments.

Well, sadly this idea did not get off the ground. We could not get funding for the development of the device even though we had a lot of supporting data. Does that mean the now dead goats were a waste? Of course not, that spine stretching data is now available for other people to use for spine related treatments as was the other part of my research that came out of that including the forces imparted by the surgical tools and the geometric and dynamic computer spine models I came up with. All out there and being used. We stretched goats to help people with spinal disorders. People complain until it’s their spine.

Another well written on this subject comes from Orac.

OK, now lets wrap back around, what the hell does this have to do with SCAM? Evidence Based Medicine uses animal models to validate a procedure, to give evidence that it works. This reduces human suffering and casualties. We use a small controlled population of animals to help us in our quest to improve and lengthen our lives.

How about SCAM? I can’t say that I have any idea where all of the materials come for making those millions of “natural” products that pretend to cure everything, but I sure am familiar with the “Ancient Chinese Medicine” canard.

Lets look at some of that nice medicine…

Well here is a nice one. Asian black bears (Moon bears) are caught and caged, then bile is removed from gall bladders while they are alive. They are kept alive so that bile may be continually removed from them. This is in order to farm a material that supports some SCAM idea that this bile is in any way good for you. There is no evidence that it is good for anything. There are no studies. There is no controlled trials. Its just plain old wives tales handed down year after year making up the part of “Ancient Chinese Medicine”.

Here are some other wonderful reagents for Ancient Chinese Medicine. None of the uses of these endangered animals are for any purpose that have any evidence of their efficacy. None of them. There is no lasting information that transcends the death of the animals, no learning. Just unwarranted imprisonment and torture with no greater good to be found.

I have no doubt that PETA folks are as horrified by this as I am. But this is a result of continued embracing of so called ‘medicine’ without the evidence to back up its efficacy. One of the reasons to demand that the medicine that you use has been testing and found beneficial is to prevent suffering. Not only the animals are suffering, this crap doesnt work better than sugar pills. People are suffering also!

Now I could leave it there. But a thought occurred to me. What if Moon Bear bile actually did have some curative power? Would that justify imprisoning the bear to continually drain bile from an open, festering wound? Guess what? The action of evidence based medicine answers that also. The reason is that once efficacy has been determined, the next step is to find out the mechanism by which it works. We would certainly use a few bears to get some bile and test that it actually provides some curative power over sugar pills, but after that, we would try to understand how it works. We would then synthesis the material. No more moon bears would be required after that. This cycle of animal torture would stop.

Demand Evidence. Stop using SCAM.

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Cue the Aids conspiracy theorists

"Scientists have made a strain of HIV in the lab"...

...that can infect monkeys.

I mean, really, if they can make monkey HIV, why couldn't they have made human HIV to cause human AIDS? I mean clearly the evil scientists are out to hurt people in a vast network of evilness that includes promotion of religion-crushing evolution, economy-destroying anthropogenic global warming and health-deteriorating drug manufacture and distribution! Damn evil scientists.

OK, back to reality. There has always been Simian Immunodefficiency Virus (SIV), and the difference between HIV and SIV is enough so that there is not much confidence that a vaccine or treatment for SIV will lead to something that will work for HIV. stHIV (simian tropic HIV) was designed to help make that jump smaller. But its not a perfect match yet. Monkeys that are infected with stHIV don't go on to get full blown AIDS.

Its a start.

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Electrolyzed Water?

Looks like there is a new invention making the rounds. Its a new miracle cleaner! And it makes “electrolyzed water”! It works better than chlorine! Its safe to drink! Its good for the environment! It will cure cancer! It will eliminate starvation is poverty stricken countries.

Alright, I got a little carried away. But you can guess that when I saw the claims being made, maybe I was a bit piqued and what the heck they were talking about.

So here is the story. One thing I will not do in this post is evaluate how good of a cleaner it is. While the entire story is about how a housecleaning staff as a hotel thinks its great stuff, they at least tried it and I have not. However, unlike the housecleaning staff, I know what it is and apparently they do not.

What is amazing to me is they they actually describe, in detail, exactly what this stuff is but then continue to refer to it as electrolyzed water.

Here is their description:

It turns out that zapping salt water with low-voltage electricity creates a couple of powerful yet nontoxic cleaning agents. Sodium ions are converted into sodium hydroxide, an alkaline liquid that cleans and degreases like detergent, but without the scrubbing bubbles. Chloride ions become hypochlorous acid, a potent disinfectant known as acid water.

So, depending on which side you take you electrolyzed water from, you are either cleaning with Hydrochlorous Acid or sodium hydroxide. These chemicals are pretty familiar to many of us. Hydrochlorous acid is the active agent for chlorine when you put it in your pool. It certainly kills bacteria as any pool owner knows as long as the concentration of it is high enough.

Sodium hydroxide is a powerful alkaline when made into a aqueous solution. Its what is in Drano to clear pipes, its used as paint stripper and other uses that requires a strong reaction to take place. It also happens to be a key component in the making of biodiesel. All of these happen in high enough concentrations.

I am trying to make clear that, like all chemicals, its not just the chemical itself that is important, its the concentration also. You can water down pure cyanide enough for it to not be dangerous to you at all (which is why homeopathy is such a joke).

As for its use: well first off, they never make clear in the article (or other ones) which water is being used, there are three sources. There is the sodium hydroxide side, the midle salt water, and the hydrochlorous acid side. I think the idea is to take the latter for disinfecting and then use the sodium hydroxide solution for degreasing. The benefits of hydrochlorous acid is fairly well known, so there is not an extraordinary claim there. Sodium hydroxide could certainly be a degreaser. However, they claim that you can drink it.

Patrick Lucci, Electrolyzer's vice president of marketing, likes to bombard prospects with scientific studies, then give 'em the old razzle-dazzle. He'll swig the processed salt water before he mops the floor with it.
"Try that with bleach," he said.

So what concentration are we really talking about here? Further, how are they assessing its effectiveness?

"I didn't believe in it at first because it didn't have foam or any scent," said housekeeper Flor Corona. "But I can tell you it works. My rooms are clean."

Sorry Flor, but unless you actually swabbed your tub or sink before and after you cleaned with it and then had it analyzed, you really have no idea if its any cleaner than using plain old water or nothing at all.

So, this may not be total nonsense, but they way they are presenting it surely is. The cleaning agent isnt water any more than the ammonia you buy is, which is also a very low concentration of ammonia gas dissolved in water.  If the hydrochlorous acid is strong enough to clean with, its probably not that great to drink, same with the sodium hydroxide side. Neither side are probably that great for continued use on metal which tends to be susceptible to tarnish when exposed to acids and bases, which is why soap is a good cleaner, as it is relatively neutral.

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