Polywell Will be a Chapter in My New Book on Risk

Discuss ways to make polywell research more widely known or better understood. Includes education and outreach.

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Curtis Faith
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Polywell Will be a Chapter in My New Book on Risk

Postby Curtis Faith » Wed Jun 11, 2008 2:09 am

Hello everyone,

I've been following Polywell Fusion for about six months now and plan on devoting a chapter to it in my new book on Risk and Uncertainty. My book will be published by McGraw Hill in January. My first booksold very well so my new book should be a reasonably good opportunity to spread the word about Polywell Fusion.

The reason that Polywell Fusion merits a chapter in the book is because it illustrates a couple of the major points in the book:

1) That hierarchies and bureaucracies shun risk.

2) That our research and development needs to be much more bottom up and much less top down because academia breeds conformity. The peer review process stifles dissent.

The combination of these two processes results in conventional thinking being very well funded while new and potentially ground-breaking ideas languish.

A technology as potentially useful as PolyWell fusion should have received sufficient funding to keep it on the fast track until either: it was proven infeasible or it works. Dr. Bussard was no quack. There is no rational excuse for his work not being funded much better than it was.

The fact that in 2008 we still don't know whether or not Polywell fusion is practical is a major failure of the U.S. government's R&D strategy.

The idea in the book is that since we don't know what might work, we need to try as many diverse ideas as possible. Anything that shows any promise should be funded. We can't afford to make huge bets on one technology (i.e. Tokamak) at the exclusion of all the others.

tonybarry
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Postby tonybarry » Wed Jun 11, 2008 2:45 am

Hello Curts,
Welcome to Talk-Polywell.

I had a look at your previous book. Hmmm. Thirty one million dollars is no mean feat. If you feel like sponsoring someone ... :-)

You are right about polywell being underfunded. It should have been proven either right or wrong by now; and Dr. Nebel's work is still being offered small fund allocations by comparison with ITER.

I also think that "many eggs in many baskets" is the best way forward. I personally do not think that ITER will ever work economically (i.e. produce power at a reasonable cost per megawatt). But we should still keep it going. The lessons learned can only be useful. We should also fund alternatives such as Polywell.

I disagree about the peer-review process. I think it has gotten us a long way further forward than anything else. While conventional thinking may not always provide lateral answers, the peer review process focuses on experimental results and if those results are solid, and have a well-crafted methodology behind them, then the peers will listen. The peers often have little time for sloppy science, which generally gives them the name of intolerance. But I haven't yet met a scientist who wouldn't read a paper in their field because they didn't like the author. In fact, those papers generally get the most scrutiny ... and that's always a good thing. Not good on the pride, to be sure. But good for science.

Regards,
Tony Barry

Curtis Faith
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Postby Curtis Faith » Wed Jun 11, 2008 1:25 pm

Tony,

I'm not saying that the peer-review process is bad. I think it's a good process for establishing science. It is not a good process for innovating or funding innovation.

There is also a tendency for scientists, especially newly minted Phds and graduate students, to follow their mentors too closely at times. With an additional tendency of senior scientists to discourage the pursuit of avenues of inquiry that they have previously pursued and not found fruitful.

As you get into major governmental research bureaucracies, there issues become more ones of power rather than ones of science. This is where we seem to get into trouble.

How do you personally explain Dr. Bussard's feeble funding compared with the funding of alternatives when given the potential benefits? One of the reasons I decided to post here is that I want to explore these issues with those who have better first-hand experience before I have to write my chapter as I want it to be a good one. The topic is an important one, no?

I have some specific ideas for alternative ways to fund research that I will propose, but I want to get others feedback first.

- Curtis

MSimon
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Peer Review

Postby MSimon » Wed Jun 11, 2008 1:45 pm

I think peer review has gotten ossified. You see the problem a lot in climate research. Orthodoxy sets in. The opposition has trouble getting funded.

In any case I think the criticism of fusion research is right on. That sentiment is almost universal around here.

==

Typo corrected
Last edited by MSimon on Thu Jun 12, 2008 12:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

JohnP
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Postby JohnP » Wed Jun 11, 2008 6:58 pm

Welcome to the forum, Curtis.

Yes, I think your thesis about bureaucracies shunning risk is very accurate. There are many instances of larger organizations deliberately forming a skunkworks mini-org to get some special project done.

And of course there's that famous quote by an IBM executive about Control Data Corp, something along the lines of 'We've got thousands of people working on a fast computer, CDC's got a couple dozen, including the janitor. Why didn't we get there first?"

To which Seymour Cray reportedly replied, "I believe you've answered your own question."

To make that a part of policy for, say, the DOE, it would have to take into account the political realities of large budgets and large numbers of people. It would truly have to a central goal of the org's charter, so officers & management would be hired on that basis, and would have that vision.

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Postby drmike » Wed Jun 11, 2008 8:47 pm

I don't think it's all that easy to quantify. I've been watching NASA TV for the past 2 months while the ISS gets built. There is no way I could personally deal with the insane bureaucracy of how they do things. But you have to admit the final result is still amazing. It is an international team of bureaucrats in charge of engineers that have actually accomplished something.

How much more could be accomplished if the billions of little rules weren't there? Hard to say - would the cosomonauts still be safe? Where do you draw the line?

I think you need both large operations that are slow and careful along with small operations that are fast and loose. Each can help the other move the human race to a better place for everyone. Getting bureaucrats to understand this really big picture is the hard part.

Curtis Faith
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Postby Curtis Faith » Wed Jun 11, 2008 9:05 pm

There is certainly some merit to rules, especially as they relate to safety.

I agree that a mixture of the two is probably best. Small for innovation and exploration, with larger teams for more incremental development and straight engineering tasks that represent more of an application of known science rather than pushing the edges.

As far as the ISS goes, I'm personally not too impressed. I remember SpaceLab and don't see too much improvement for the 30 years that have passed. Yes, it is much bigger but progress at NASA seems to have virtually stopped by comparison to the go-go years of the 60s.

I was 6 when we landed on the moon, I remember it. Since that point, there has been relatively little progress. The progress we have made seems mostly to have come from outside NASA – electronics, optics, robotics, etc. are all now primarily developed and advanced in private industry. NASA benefits from advances here but does not produce them like it once did.

It seems to me that the best NASA projects of late have also been smaller low-budget affairs rather than the big-ticket items. Bureaucracy also scares away many of the best engineers.

- Curtis
Last edited by Curtis Faith on Thu Jun 12, 2008 1:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.

MSimon
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Postby MSimon » Thu Jun 12, 2008 12:11 am

Curtis,

You might want to look at the US Navy's R&D program which allocates funds (in the $1 to $2 million range) for high risk high payoff projects. I think it was instituted by Adm. Jay Cohen.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_q ... i_n9369089

Cohen: The discoveries that occur today we are making under a strategy of "planting a thousand flowers." We don't know exactly where projects will go, but for a thousand flowers planted, the rule of thumb is you'll get 100 projects, three prototypes, and one profit-maker. That is true for General Electric and it is true for the Navy.


http://www.navyleague.org/seapower_mag/ ... Cohen.html

COHEN: You are exactly right. Discovery and invention are characterized by the fact that we don't know what we don't know! You must go up many alleys before you know which ones are blind. In today's Navy we are very focused on the science and technology that we want to apply for in-service improvements. For tomorrow's Navy we have a reasonable understanding of mature or maturing technologies that we want to apply to reduce the risk for insertion into weapons, systems, platforms, and sensors.

Discovery and invention for the future represent a much more unstructured process, and if we tried to structure it and predetermine results we would not enjoy the breakthroughs in technology that have been the strength of our Navy and Marine Corps for the last century--what many call the American century. We hope to continue this pattern into the 21st century.


The high risk program has a name. I forget what it is. It is probably at the ONR site.

http://www.onr.navy.mil/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Naval_Research

http://www.onr.navy.mil/media/poc/
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

drmike
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Postby drmike » Thu Jun 12, 2008 1:52 pm

Curtis - Yup, that's why I couldn't work there! But the ISS is up there and I can watch it live at my desk all day long.

I think we'll see something interesting with Virgin Galactic. That will be a combination of big and small without government. I think you need to isolate government bureaucrats from corporate bureaucrats. They are similar, but they have different driving forces.

Mike Holmes
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Postby Mike Holmes » Thu Jun 12, 2008 3:05 pm

Frankly, you need a benevolent dictator bent on change over profit. Steve Jobs gets things accomplished because he makes everyone work to his specifications. You may think that they're not the right things, but they're definitely new things.

Compare Microsoft which hasn't produced an innovation... ever? Talk about a risk-averse culture. But a profitable one.

It takes somebody willing to understand the altruistic benefits of change, as not profitable in the short-run for the individual, but profitable for mankind in the long run.

Sans that individual, what you get is herd mentality. And the herd avoids risk like the plague. Evolution in action.

Mike

MSimon
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Postby MSimon » Thu Jun 12, 2008 6:38 pm

Mike Holmes wrote:Frankly, you need a benevolent dictator bent on change over profit. Steve Jobs gets things accomplished because he makes everyone work to his specifications. You may think that they're not the right things, but they're definitely new things.


The problem is that you usually get the other kind of dictator.

The beauty of the capitalist system is that if a certain dictator doesn't appeal to you, you have the choice of another.

Dictatorship in a private market is dependent on enticement. When government gets its heavy hand in it is a gun to your head and a gentle exhortation of "or else".

Each system has its problems. Remember the Germans in WW2? They were going to cut through all the things standing in the way of change by giving orders. How did that work out?

However, the idea of change over profit is stupid. If there is no profit in change then the change has no real world value (psychic value is good - you can't run an economy on it - it fails, almost every time). In fact so far as we know all systems that value change over profit have failed or are failing.

What you imagine is: "the changes I like will get implemented". What really happens is: "I'm being forced to do a lot of new things that I detest and are totally counterproductive".
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

Mike Holmes
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Postby Mike Holmes » Fri Jun 13, 2008 2:55 pm

Uh, yeah, that was my point, dictators of capitalist organizations. Like the example I gave.

No, I'm not suggesting fascism.

As for "Change over profit" it's really "Profit by change or profit by cash."

Mike

MSimon
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Postby MSimon » Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:26 pm

Change for profit aligns everything properly.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

TallDave
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Postby TallDave » Fri Jun 13, 2008 5:47 pm

Uh, yeah, that was my point, dictators of capitalist organizations.


In non-monopoly situations, they are at the mercy of consumers and stockholders. The organization that does the best at adding value wins. The net result is we all get a little richer every year.

Mike Holmes
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Postby Mike Holmes » Fri Jun 13, 2008 7:14 pm

Well, yes, but there are some that respond to the market, and some that lead the market. Responders have a purpose, but do not create innovation. To go with my example, did consumers demand the iPhone? Or did Jobs create that market? The latter, I'd say.

You don't get that from yes men. You get that from obstinate mavericks.

Mike


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