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Posts Tagged ‘fraud’

On the Jingoistic Delusions of Arstechnica Fanboys about SpaceX: 1

July 11, 2018 7 comments

As regular readers know, my longer posts are usually about large-scale trends, systemic issues and other ‘meta’ phenomena. This one is about something far more specific and kinda obscure. However, as you will see, it does eventually connect with a few meta- trends. So what is it about, anyway? Well.. I am going to cast the harsh light of reality onto absurd and delusional fanboy-ism displayed by “journalists” at technology oriented websites (especially ArsTechnica) towards SpaceX and Elon Musk.

In case you require a quick refresher, here are a couple of links to my previous posts on SpaceX (link 1, link 2). Also, as many of you know, my cynicism about Elon Musk is largely due to the outrageous claims mabe by him about future of his enterprises as well as his P.T. Barnum-esque PR efforts. As I have said before, the dreams of endless profits, market monopolization and “disruption” which he is selling to rubes are also darkly funny. But enough about him, let us talk about his fanboys (paid or otherwise) in american “journalism”.

To understand what I am talking about, have a look at some of the fanboy-type articles posted on ArsTechnica about SpaceX. While I am no stranger to the concept of “journalists” promoting and pimping whatever product or ideology their corporate masters require of them, the sheer amount and degree of magical thinking, fake positivity and informercial-level promotion of SpaceX by alleged “journalists” working at ArsTechnica is reminiscent of supermarket tabloids (the ones only old people seem to read nowadays).

Some of this “journalistic” booster-ism is extreme enough to become unintentional parody (example 1, example 2). The articles which pissed me off, and were the reason for writing this post, concern their willingness to lie about the space programs of other countries- often displaying no understanding of the geo-political and historical considerations underlying the funding of national space programs. While ArsTechnica “journalists” (metaphorically) sucking Elon Musk’s dick might be “normal”, lying and making up bullshit to massage the delusions of its more jingoistic readers is a bit too much.

A few recent articles such as ones about the “inevitable collapse” of the Russian space program and its future prospects are particularly illustrative of what passes for “journalism at ArsTechnica. Let us first talk about their “journalistic” posts about the Proton launcher- which for many years was a cheap, if inherently problematic, commercial launcher. For example- if you read this piece of propagandist bullshit without knowing enough of the background, you might be led to believe that there was something newly wrong with the Proton launcher system. Unfortunately for the presstitutes at ArsTechnica, the reality is quite different. On a side note, feel free to browse some of their other recycled jingoistic posts which pass for “journalism” at ArsTechnica.

The Proton launcher family was always the red-headed stepchild of Russian space program. To make a long story short- the fact that it used hypergolic fuels and was promoted by Vladimir Chelomei, made it particular unpopular with Sergei Korolev and his faithful proteges. In fact, it would never have been developed if Korolev had not died in 1968. Well.. he died unexpectedly and Chelomei ensured that it got developed. And yes, it had tons of teething problems and failures in its early years. Eventually they were able to make it work reliably. But there is more..

The two main reasons USSR did not develop a RP-1/LOX equivalent of the Proton was because the later was cheap to manufacture and quite reliable after 1972. So there was no point in spending more money to develop, test and validate yet another new launcher system which was not significantly better or cheaper than the Proton. It also helped that the launch sites used by the Proton were situated in regions where an occasional catastrophic failure was not a big deal. Why fix something that is not broken?

Anyway.. after the dissolution of USSR and commercialization of space launch facilities by Russia, it became a fairly popular launcher because it was reliable enough and cheaper than equivalent Ariane launchers. FYI- Commercial launches by Boeing and others in USA had been almost dead since mid-1980s because of their exorbitant prices. So Russia just kept on cranking out more launchers inspite of many looming problems, especially Kazakhstan’s increasing reluctance to let them keep using the Baikonur launch site.

To make matters worse, they made the decision to transition from Proton to Angara launchers without first properly developing and validating the later system. To make a long story short, poor management (and graft) by those in charge of the Angara program in combination with mismanagement (and graft) of those in charge of the now deprecated Proton program predictably caused issues with reliability and costs of the later. Furthermore, Chinese rockets were already competing with the Proton for low-end of the launch market. The entry of SpaceX in the launch market merely sped up the process.

To quickly summarize this part, the Proton launcher family is Russia’s equivalent of the Titan III rocket family. In other words, good and important enough to last far beyond when it was meant to be replaced, but always fundamentally problematic. To claim that issues relating to half-hearted attempts at winding down its production and replacing it with Angara are somehow different from similar delays and screw-ups experienced by USA while transitioning from Delta-2 and Titan III to Delta-4 and Atlas-5 is intellectually dishonest.

And this brings me to another bullshit story being peddled by the presstitues at Arstechnica. As I briefly mentioned earlier, they are trying to push the claim that Russia somehow lacks the money and will to keep funding its space program. I see this one as an index example of how many jingoistic americans are incapable of thinking in addition to being severely deficient in their knowledge of history. The development and funding of pace launch systems, you see, have always been primarily about strategic prerogatives- not “free market” bullshit.

The development of space launchers by USSR (now Russia), USA, EU, China and India is largely driven by considerations such as maintaining and developing technological capabilities, employing their own people, developing related industrial sectors and nationalistic pride. I cannot think of any space program which has consistently turned a “profit”. And for good reason.. capability in projects and programs related to national security and strategic capability is far more valuable that any arbitrary monetary value.

To put it another way, no large country with any degree of strategic independence is going to shut down its space program and outsource it to SpaceX. And they all have far deeper pockets and infinitely more staying power that SpaceX. It is also worth mentioning that almost everything developed by Russian space program in the past has been about strategic considerations and national pride. I should also mention that in the 1990s, many “respectable” western news outlets were full of endless stories about how Russia would lose ability to make nuclear weapons, ICBMs, nuclear submarines, would be invaded from east by China etc.

So what happened since then in the real world? Well.. it turns out that it was USA which got involved in and lost wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. It was USA that got de-industrialized through “free trade agreements” and now has serious problems fielding reliable next-generation military aircraft and aircraft carriers. It is people in USA who keep on getting screwed over by rapidly rising costs in the education, health and housing sector. It is USA that is now experiencing record low fertility rates in native-born women and a rapidly increasing number of deaths from drug overdoses, alcoholism and deferred medical care. It is cops in USA who now behave like their power-crazed versions in other countries were supposed to behave.

To put it another way, it is the USA (not the rest of the world) which is now in terminal decline. And this brings us to the issue of who is the real audience for this laughable propaganda and fanboy-ism from american technology “journalism”. Spoiler: It is meant for an American (and perhaps British) audience, who might be delusional and desperate enough to believe that ‘their team is still winning’. The thing is.. most people in countries which matter haven’t believed in anything coming from western (mostly american) “news” outlets for over a couple of decades- at the very least.

In the next post of this short series, I will focus on how “journalists” at ArsTechnica and other american “news” outlets write about other countries.

What do you think? Comments?

Dream of Mars Colonization as Sold by Elon Musk is a Hilarious Fraud: 1

July 7, 2018 20 comments

Over the past few years, I have noticed a recurring theme which emerges during any prolonged defense of Elon Musk by his fanboys. It involves their firm belief in his increasingly outrageous claims about the relative ease and plausibility of human colonization of Mars. While establishing permanent human settlements on Mars is an interesting idea, doing so is not plausible without very significant technological advances in multiple areas as well as abandoning the organization of society around any form of capitalism. In the rest of this post, I will provide an overview of the many technological and other problems which will doom such an endeavor.

Let us start by quickly going over the unsuitability of the BFR (as currently envisaged) for such a mission. Imagine, for a moment, that Elon Musk somehow finds a way to build and successfully test that particular launcher design. Let us also imagine that it can put a payload of between 150-200 tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). So, how much of that can be put into a Hohmann Transfer Orbit bound for Mars? And that brings us to the first problem. Moving a payload from LEO to TLI or any Mars transfer orbit requires a pretty large amount of fuel to achieve the delta V changes necessary for such a change- and the fuel for that has to some from within the payload.

For example: Saturn-V could put about 130-140 tons into LEO but only 45-50 tons of that could be injected into a TLI orbit. Furthermore, the third stage of Saturn-V utilized a very efficient LOX-H2 engine with specific impulse values close to maximum possible for chemical rocket engines. To put in another way, 200 tons injected into LEO translates into barely 70 tons of useful payload for simply entering into a Mars transfer orbit. And that 70 tons must contain enough fuel to inject itself into a circular orbit around Mars (once it reaches that planet), soft land on its surface and then climb into Martian orbit for re-entering the reverse Hohmann transfer orbit to Earth.

Of course, there are ways to increase the payload deliverable to Mars. It is possible, for example, to use multiple BFR launches to build a Mars transfer spaceship in orbit. Nuclear- or solar- powered machines pre-delivered to Mars could produce the methane and oxygen from local resources to power return flights to Earth. But regardless of how you try to solve this problem, the actual amount of payload deliverable to Mars by even the largest rockets imagined by Elon Musk are pretty meager for starting anything approaching a small permanent settlement.

And it gets worse. A one way trip to Mars using chemical rocket engines and the minimum energy Hohmann transfer orbit will take about nine months. To be clear, nine months or even a year in LEO is doable largely because the spacecraft is still partially protected from solar and cosmic radiation by the earth’s magnetic field. Also, post-journey physiotherapy and rehabilitation on Earth can (over a few years) reverse most deleterious effects of living under conditions of micro-gravity. That is not the case if you travel to Mars, because there might be nobody or very few people to help you after landing on it.

Living under conditions of micro-gravity for more than a couple of weeks has serious and long-term negative effects on bone density, muscle mass and the cardiovascular systems- even if you exercise every single day on the spacecraft and take drugs to counteract some effects of micro-gravity on your body. Decades of medical experience with counteracting the physical effects of micro gravity has shown us that those who have lived for more than a couple of months on space-station take year or two (at least) of physiotherapy to start feel close to normal once again. And don’t forget those astronauts are returning to a planet with normal gravity and tons of medical personnel and facilities.

Mars, on the other hand, is an uninhabited planet with 1/3rd the surface gravity of Earth, a magnetic field too weak to shield you from solar/cosmic radiation and surface atmospheric pressure barely 1/100 th of that on earth. In other words, the “living conditions” on Mars are pretty dismal. Perhaps more importantly, the combination of significantly lower surface gravity (than earth) and high radiation environment is almost certain to cause tons of negative health effects in humans foolish enough to live for more than a few weeks (or months) on its surface.

While living a few meters below its surface, and under a layer of ice, would reduce the amount of ionizing radiation from space to less horrible levels, it would not be surprising if almost everyone living on Mars for any prolonged length of time ended up developing (and dying from) some form on cancer or other chronic diseases. Let us also not forget about the large amount of resources necessary to supply even the smallest Martian colony with food, medicines and equipment from Earth. While it is possible to use small nuclear reactors or solar panels to convert subsurface ice and atmospheric CO2 to oxygen, water and methane- almost all other consumables and equipment to maintain, and perform repairs in, such a colony will have to be ferried from Earth.

In the next part of this short series, I will write about how the currently dominant socio-economic paradigm of capitalism (especially late capitalism based on financialism and metrics based “productivity”) are an even bigger obstacle to human colonization of Mars.

What do you think? Comments?

My Thoughts on the Systemic Scam Underlying Tesla Motors: 2

June 30, 2018 38 comments

In my previous post in this series, I made the point that there many similarities between the overall career trajectories of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk than most want to acknowledge. Based on the comments section of that post, it appears that some of you think that comparing a now-disgraced con artist with your favorite secular prophet du jour is unfair. Some of you might also think that Theranos, unlike SpaceX or Tesla Motors, was a complete con-job based on an unsound idea and totally fabricated results. The reality, however, is far more complex and nuanced.

But before we go there, let us talk about another facet of the almost uniquely american scam known as a technology based startup based in, or around, Silly Valley. To be more specific, let us focus on the type of people who start or are the public face of such corporations. I recently came across an interesting article which made an argument about entrepreneurship in USA that I also made in the past. To summarize, the article says that all entrepreneurs who achieve any lasting level of success in USA are scammers and con-artists who just got really lucky.

In other words, all those Silly Valley entrepreneurs constantly promoting their “disruptive” and “innovative” product or service “which will change the world” are just scam artists who have found the right elevator pitch, facial mannerisms and organisational image to sell to gullible fanboys and cynical banksters who will lend them other people’s money. Being a successful entrepreneur in USA is now almost exclusively about having the right image and sales pitch in addition to pushing emotional buttons in rubes rather than delivering even a fraction of what was promised.

To be fair, none of this is really new and american rubes have been enthusiastically buying snake oil of all types since the nation was founded. What is, however, different now is that real world technological progress (as in improvement) has stalled for at least a decade (and more) in many fields. Don’t believe me? Look at trends in life-expectancy (even for the super-rich), increasingly crappy quality of your smartphone and laptop, the almost complete lack of any major medical advance (to treat common diseases) for well over a decade.. I could keep go on.

This combination of very obvious (if largely unspoken) technological stagnation combined with sequelae of 2008 financial crisis has drained public faith from most american institutions. It is also partially the reason why Trump was elected in 2016. Another consequence of this (richly deserved) loss of faith in traditional institutions is that any slick con-man or con-woman with some TED-Talker skills can successfully start a new corporate cult. Even recycled scam sellers, such as Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich, can make tons of money and gather an army of “followers”. And those two are not even the worst offenders of their sub-genre.

So how is the scam perpetrated by somebody like Elizabeth Holmes, Elon Musk or any other Silly Valley CEO different from the dietary supplements and self-help books hawked by Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich. Well.. for starters, Silly Valley scams are based around a core of truth or plausibility. For example, lithium-ion battery based electric cars with decent performance have been feasible since late 1990s, United Launch Alliance (ULA) was abusing its rocket launch monopoly in USA by charging outrageous rates and advancements in medical diagnostic technology have reduced the specimen size necessary conducting each test.

It is therefore reasonable to start corporations to explore development and commercialization of better electric cars, cheaper rocket launchers and diagnostic tests which are faster and can use a smaller specimen size (or volume). So what makes Tesla Motors, SpaceX and Theranos scams rather than somewhat respectable businesses? Well.. as I have said in previous posts, it comes down to the dreams they are selling to their fanboys and investors. For example, SpaceX would be a perfectly normal business if it promoted itself as a launch company with cost-competitive rocket launchers. But that is not what its public image and market valuation are based on.

Instead the market valuation of SpaceX is based on believing their hilarious claims about lunar tourism, colonization of mars and monopolizing the global space launch market. To put it another way, they are selling a series of highly implausible dreams. Similarly, as I mentioned in previous post of this series that, Tesla Motors public image in USA and stock valuation are based on the belief that it will displace Toyota, GM, Hyundai etc as the premier and other dominant automobile manufacturer in the world. It also presupposes that electric cars will somehow magically replace gasoline/diesel cars throughout the world, within the next 15 years. If you don’t believe me, have a look at market valuation of automobile manufacturers (including Tesla Motors) versus the number of vehicles they sell per year.

But what does any of this have to do with the saga of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. As it turn out.. a lot. The idea underlying Theranos, namely miniaturizing medical diagnostic tests such that they require very small amounts of blood or other bodily fluids, is fairly reasonable. In fact, some technologies that it was trying to incorporate into its own system has been previously shown to work well- perhaps not well enough or with very small volumes- but work well enough to merit further development. The problem with Elizabeth Holmes, her ‎Svengali (Ramesh Balwani), and the upper management of that company was that they over-promised to the point where they could not deliver anything close to what they promised.

It did not help that they apparently had an insufficient grasp of the technological aspects of whatever they were trying to promote. To make matters worse, they tried to scam their way out of this self-inflicted disaster by doing a variety of illegal things- from using diagnostic systems from other manufacturers to make it appear that their own system worked, abusing and threatening their employees and a whole lot more. But more importantly, through all of this Elizabeth Holmes continued peddling the scam under the guise of “female empowerment”, dressing like the next Steve Jobs, speaking in a fake voice and much more.

Curiously (or not), she had no trouble finding tons of rich, famous and allegedly smart people who were willing to invest millions and billions in her scam. Theranos started to implode only after it became too obvious that she pulling an enormous scam. Even then, many of her rich financial backers kept expressing confidence in her abilities. So what was the reason behind the now divergent fates of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk. Well.. in my opinion, Elon Musk got lucky because he built his companies around ideas which could survive a quick back-of envelope calculation.

Electric cars with decent performance and relatively inexpensive RP-1/LOX rocket launchers were either already feasible or mature technology for at least a few years before he started Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Elizabeth Holmes, on the other hand, tried to pull of a scam in an area which lacked a similar base of proven technology. She chose poorly and was unlucky. But make no mistake- their main business model was, and still is, selling people and investors on their dreams of “technological disruption, “unlimited profits” and “market monopolization”. And that is why Elizabeth Holmes is an unlucky female version of Elon Musk.

What do you think? Comments?

My Thoughts on the Systemic Scam Underlying Tesla Motors: 1

June 23, 2018 41 comments

As regular readers know, I have previously written a couple of posts (link 1, link 2) on the fraud underling SpaceX’s claims of “disrupting” and “revolutionizing” the space launcher industry. To summarize the gist of both posts, my issues with their business model are largely centered on the hilariously optimistic claims made by them about future prospects for basically unlimited growth and market monopolization. While becoming yet another boring but reliable player in the international launch market is feasible for them, it is clear that they selling far bigger dreams without being honest about it.

Now, if you thought that this post would make a similar case against Telsa motors, you guessed right! As you will soon see, my issues with the business model of Tesla Motors and its borderline hypomaniac CEO, Elon Musk, have nothing to do with the feasibility of building an electric car with acceptable performance and mileage. Even a brief overview of the history of technological developments (especially rechargeable lithium batteries) as they relate to building viable electric automobiles shows that viable electric cars were possible anytime after the late 1990s.

But before we go any further, let us talk a bit more about what has historically been the single largest obstacle to developing viable and competitive electric cars. Yes.. I am talking about the energy density of rechargeable batteries, aka the source of energy for such vehicles. As some of you might know, electric cars and conventional gasoline powered cars came onto the market at around the same time, over a hundred years ago. Even more interestingly, early electrical cars were quite competitive with their contemporary gasoline-powered competitors.

What ultimately doomed electric cars by the late 1910s was that their range on single charge just could not keep up with the steadily improving performance of gasoline powered cars. Also, the extent of electrification necessary to make such short-range cars viable was simply not there till after WW2. In contrast to that, gasoline was easy to transport, store and cars using it had much better range, speed in addition to being much less expensive to drive per mile or kilometer. Lead acid batteries, you see, have a pretty shitty energy density (as in almost 70-80 times lower) when compared to gasoline and an equivalent amount of electric energy was (and still is) more expensive than gasoline or diesel.

The energy density of modern lithium-ion batteries is now only 10-20 times lower than gasoline, which while still being sorta shitty, is good enough to power cars with decent performance and range- largely because electric motors are lighter than equivalent internal-combustion engines and the former do not require conventional transmissions. Problems related to the speed of recharging such vehicles and storing electricity cheaply on a large-scale do however still remain, as do issues related to using them in less populated areas without a reliable electrical grid. In other words, electric cars are still a niche product.

To make matters worse for electric cars, their gasoline (and diesel) powered competitors have benefited from over a century of continuous improvements. The technology behind them is mature and very well understood, as is the ability to produce them at very high quality levels on ginormous scales. There is a reason why you can buy a new Toyota Corolla for a fairly affordable price and expect it to run almost half a million kilometers with basic maintenance and relatively inexpensive repairs. The real competition for Tesla cars are not other electric- or luxury gasoline- powered cars but your humble Toyota Corollas, Honda Accords and Hyundai Sonatas.

Which brings us to the first problem specific to Tesla Motors. Simply put, they motors has yet to produce, or even demonstrate the technological wherewithal for making, cars which can directly compete against their highly optimized mass-market gasoline powered competitors. If you don’t believe me, compare the price of a fully loaded Toyota Corolla and a Tesla 3. Did I mention that you can buy a Corolla right now, while the status of full-scale Tesla 3 production is still up in the air. Did I mention that they have been having these problems for over a year now, unexpected departure of many senior executives and issues ranging from the poor product quality to thoughtless design choices. I could go.. but you get the point.

Even worse, the Chevy Volt which has specs very similar to a base level Tesla 3 has proven to a poor seller. To put it another way, the real reason Tesla Motors still has a (now rapidly shrinking) waiting list for their cars is largely due to the cache of owning a Tesla car, rather than electric cars being competitive with gasoline powered ones. This is somewhat like there being a prestige market for rabbit droppings if rabbits suddenly went extinct. But what happens once the prestige market for Tesla cars get tapped out?

As readers might know only too well, most people buy cars to use them as appliances. It certainly helps if a car looks good or is considered cool, but as even a quick glance will demonstrate, most people are quite happy to drive mediocre-looking beige boxes as long as they are reliable and affordable to own. The unpleasant fact is that there are simply not enough customers for quirky prestige cars for Tesla Motors to cause any real “disruption” in the automobile manufacture business. And we have not even started talking about Tesla cars being especially susceptible to malicious hacking, safety issues resulting from lack of physical controls for many basic functions, finding raw materials to manufacture lithium-ion batteries on the scale they are talking about.

In the next part of this series, I will talk about the rather peculiar similarities between the overall career profile of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk. Yes.. she is the CEO of that now disgraced company which was able to fool investors, bankers and other “experts” for almost 15 years. As I will show you in the next post, both Elon Musk and that woman are purveyors of what I call the “Silicon Valley Scam”, which is largely based on making highly exaggerated claims based on a kernel of reality and appealing to the “optimism” of clever idiots in Silly Valley with empty lives to part with their money. But there is much more to that scam as you will find about in the next part of this series.

What do you think? comments?

“Official” Scientific Research about Nutrition is Mostly Fabrication

February 28, 2018 14 comments

In the past, I have written more than a few posts about why an increasing number of people no longer believe in the pronouncements of “professionals”, “experts” and “scientists”. As I wrote in some of those posts, a majority of scientific research performed and published today is highly exaggerated, purposefully misrepresented or just plain outright fraud. To make a long story short, all those purported breakthroughs published everyday in both scientific journals and the general media no longer result in any worthwhile improvements in our ability to solve those problems.

There are many reasons why progress in scientific research (as measured by our ability to do useful and hitherto impossible things) has stagnated since the 1970s and 1980s, or why no truly novel and groundbreaking technologies have emerged since the mid-1990s. A good part of the blame can be placed on the infiltration and domination of neoliberal ideology in both public and privately funded research. The current centralized and fickle nature of financial support for researchers also has a negative effect on research. We cannot also forget the effect of perverse incentives on the overall process.

“Scientific” research into nutrition and health is one of the areas where this rot is highly visible- even to the general public, and for good reason. As many of you know, the most embarrassing public failures attributed to medical research (and remembered as such) by the general public concern the many solipsistic, dishonest and often outright fraudulent examples of dietary recommendations pushed by “scientists” and “experts” over the last few decades. In case you have forgotten some of the stunners, let me refresh your memory.

Some of you may might have heard about a pompous and greedy ivy-league creature called Ancel Keys cherry-picked data to show that dietary fats, rather than carbohydrates, was linked to atherosclerotic heart disease. It is also no secret that during the 1960s-1990s, many large corporations marketing carbohydrate based food funded scientific “research” which then “proved” that carbohydrates were “healthy” while fats were “unhealthy”. This was also the era when cigarette manufacturers funded studies which allegedly showed smoking to have no link with an increased risk of lung cancer or emphysema.

In other words, all those “acclaimed” and “objective” scientists in ivy-league league universities were (and are) as corrupt as the proverbial crooked inspector in a third-world country. I could go on and list tons of other cases where dietary guidelines reached after “extensive studies” proved to be worse than useless and were later found out to be based on highly irregular data analysis. For example, average levels of salt-intake have no worthwhile association with blood pressure in most people. And yes.. I am aware that 10-15 % of the population is more sensitive to salt intake than the remaining 85-90%.

My point is that population-wide reduction in levels of smoking, better treatment of hypertension and heart disease have been the principal reasons behind the decrease in mortality and morbidity from cardio- and cerebro- vascular diseases. The effect of these factors is most obvious when you start correlating the chronological decrease in the incidence of these diseases with the introduction of better anti-hypertensive drugs, statins and improved methods and protocols for treating strokes and heart-attacks. Dietary guidelines based on biased “studies, on the other hand, have made people fatter and less healthy that would otherwise be the case.

A recently uncovered example of the inherently fraudulent nature of “official” nutrition research involves uncovering of highly questionable stuff going in the research group of Brian Wansink at Cornell, where he hold an endowed chair. Wansink also just happens to be the former head of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the USDA. While I encourage you to read the link in the previous sentence and this one for the long-form version of this story, the short summary is as follows. This “respected ivy-league” professor strongly and often directly encouraged his graduate students to start with a media-friendly headline and then statistically torture data to fit whatever the wanted to publish.

He wanted his graduate students and postdocs to make up scientific “facts” based on manipulated data to justify whatever he thought was fashionable or would result in more grant money and fame. It is especially damning that he casually joked about doing this for many years in email exchanges with his students. The degree of openness and candor he displayed also suggests that doing “research” in this manner was pretty common in this area. Some of you might see this case as an exception, however my experience in research over the years suggests that he was just unlucky enough to get caught. And this brings us the next question- what if his “usual research practices” had never been uncovered?

Well.. if Wansink had never been exposed, he would still be regarded as a highly respected academic with impeccable credentials whose “research” would continue to be published in “respectable” peer-reviewed journals and form the basis of various policies concerning “healthy eating” and “nutrition”. Some of his graduate students would go on to be appointed to the faculty of other universities and keep performing what is basically scientific fraud and be rewarded with tenure, pay raises and fame. The biggest losers in this whole scheme would be all those credulous idiots who kept believing in the “objectivity” of scientific research- especially as it concerns the field of nutrition.

What do you think? Comments?

The Business Model of SpaceX is a Quintessentially American Fraud

June 6, 2017 27 comments

I have been meaning to write this particular post for a few months now, but was not sure how to compress into something that can be comfortably read in one sitting. On the other hand, aiming for too much optimization and perfection is probably not helpful for getting things done and posted. So here it is..

The main point of this post, stripped down to its absolute minimum, is that the business model of SpaceX is a uniquely american-style fraud. Note, I am not saying that corporations like SpaceX are incapable of making a profit someday in the future. My issues with their business model concern the many claims made by them about their future prospects, especially about their advertised potential for future growth, profit and services.

To be fair, the business model of SpaceX is Elon Musk‘s second largest fraud- after Tesla Inc. FYI- My criticism of the business model of Tesla Inc is not based on whether electric cars are practical or viable (they are both). It has to do with the claims made by Musk about how electric cars will displace internal combustion because the former will become somehow cheaper or more functional than the later. But that issue is best left for another day.

It is an open secret that Tesla Inc market capitalization has no link to the number of cars it can sell. How else can you explain a corporation selling less than 80 thousand automobiles a year being considered more valuable than one that sells 10 million a year. As you will soon see, the public image of SpaceX’s future potential is also largely based on a combination of extremely wishful (ok.. highly delusional) thinking and silly valley-style optimism. Along the way you will also see why I say that it is a quintessentially american fraud.

So let me list the many ways that SpaceX’s business model is based on a public relations-led fraud.

1] Everything SpaceX has achieved to date is based on half-century old research funded by the american government. Yes, you heard that right! SpaceX’s launchers are based on technology and fundamental research done by the public sector decades ago. Furthermore, unlike the older corporations comprising United Launch Alliance (Boeing, Lockheed etc), it has not really invented or discovered anything more innovative than making the lower stages of their rockets land vertically and streaming HD videos from them.

SpaceX’s business model is based on PR promoting themselves as innovative while being dependent on decades old research as well as direct and indirect government largess. It certainly helps that there are enough idiots in the world who will buys flashy hype. In other words, the business model of SpaceX is very similar to Tesla Motors and pretty much every single corporation (startup or otherwise) in Silly Valley. As I will show you in the next couple of paragraphs, their claim of being the cheapest space launch system is based on a gross misrepresentation- on many levels.

2] Elon Musk’s is trying to sell the dream that it is possible to build a few dozen launchers and then simply refuel and fly them over and over again for say 10-20 times before building new ones. To put it another way, he wants you to believe that it is possible to make space launch systems that are more like commercial airliners than conventional space launch systems. There is just one problem with that idea.. it is based on what can be best described as optimistic bullshit.

Rocket engines, you see, are rather different from most other types of engines in that they work under conditions of extreme heat and pressure and with a very tiny margin of mechanical safety. They have to so because of the conditions necessary for their operations and the need to keep their weight down. While it has been possible to build potentially reusable Kerosene-LOX engines of the type used by SpaceX for decades now, there haven’t been any takers. Even the ex-USSR, and Russia, preferred to use new engines rather than reuse engines even when they knew that the later would OK after refurbishment and testing.

But why? Why did countries like the ex-USSR which made them in tens of thousands prefer to use new engines than use ones they knew could be reused. Well.. it comes down to a cost and risk calculation. Rocket engines, even the most simplified and robust ones, are always one tiny defect away from blowing up. It is easier to be certain about the lack of tiny but fatal defects in a newly built engine than a refurbished one. Moreover the cost of a refurbished engine blowing up once in a while exceeds the cost of using freshly built engines. Also refurbishing and testing used engines can get almost as expensive as building new ones from scratch.

3] The launch cost of a spacecraft, especially a satellite or space probe, is often the smallest part of the program budget. Yes.. you heard that right, launch cost for satellites is often significant lower than the costs of designing, building and testing them- not to mention ground support for the next 10-15 years. My point is that launch costs for a satellite or any spacecraft (which is not a disposable transport vessel) is usually less than 20% of the “Total Cost of Ownership” for that particular spacecraft program. In other words, launch cost is not a particularly big concern to organisations whose primary operations require reliable and long-lived spacecraft. And this brings us the next point..

4] Even if we assume that SpaceX is actually cost competitive, who will use their launch services? Here is a hint- almost nobody outside the USA or in their political orbit. Here is why.. Countries such as Russia, China, India and Japan are going to use their own launch systems for a number of reasons from ensuring national security, keeping their own scientists and engineers employed and national pride. Also, vertical integration of spacecraft and launcher programs create far more cost savings than using somebody else to launch your spacecraft using slightly cheaper launchers.Even many European countries are unlikely to use SpaceX over their own ESA launch systems over the long term- even doing so is a bit more expensive because it is about preserving technology and job security for their own citizens. Furthermore, countries other than those listed above are also unlikely to have a strong preference for SpaceX since countries like China already offer very competitive packages covering everything from satellite design and launch to post-launch support aka vertical integration.

5] Even in USA, the launch business for commercial and military satellites is an oligopoly- one long dominated by well-known players such as Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Thiokol. Did I mention that those corporations have much more money, and many paid lobbyists, than SpaceX? To make a long story short, Space X is unlikely to become the dominant player in the area of launching american spacecraft (in dollar terms) unless the other larger players screw up very badly. This is not to say that SpaceX cannot make a decent profit on launching some spacecraft for the american governments and USA-based corporations. In fact, SpaceX will run just fine and make a decent profit as long as it is run as a conventional launch business.

To summarize, SpaceX is bluffing and lying when it claims the ability to “disrupt” the space launch business or become the dominant global player in that sector. What is especially sad to see is the number of otherwise intelligent people who are willing to treat the press releases of that company as holy gospel. Then again the USA is full of self-delusional types who are confident of becoming multi-millionaires within the next decade. To summarize, the long-term (and even medium-term) business model of SpaceX is a confidence scam based on rosy and polished presentations combined with exhortations to positive thinking. And that is why I called it a quintessentially american fraud.

What do you think? Comments?