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On 2018-03-12 13:54, Louis Proyect via Marxism wrote:

Michio Kaku was a Maoist when young and continued to be a radical on
his radio show. Somewhere along the line he became a "futurist" and a
rather woolly-minded one

Yes, in fact I remember attending a conference/rally where he was a keynote speaker. Which is exactly how people with his stature can best help, in my view. And while I joined in applause of his (= our) political positions, I have a much dimmer view of those who use their well-deserved prestige to pose as authorities on topics which are clearly outside of their discipline. And separately, I have a dim view of those scientists who use the most speculative scientific hunches (which are often distorted in the process) to corral popular interest and glorify themselves, at the expense of millions of scientists doing unglamorous daily work that actually contributes to human knowledge, albeit answering questions that most people never would have asked. For that is what I found when I listened to the radio show (or perhaps it was other online material) of Kaku that Louis mentions.

One such issue I recall from circa 1990 was opposition to the planning of the (very successful) Cassini–Huygens mission due to its use of a radioactive plutonium power source (not a nuclear reactor but akin to the plutonium cells used in some early implantable cardiac pacemakers). Of course we were all anti-nuclear and Kaku played well to our ears when he joined the chorus against the (very tiny) risk involved, EVEN THOUGH his expertise is in theoretical physics, quite unrelated. I'm not saying that I knew any better at the time myself, but now I realize that the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft was probably about the one instance where nuclear power is very justified: a billion kilometers from any human civilization and where solar power would have a 100 times lower efficacy compared to the location of the earth.

And I was similarly dismayed to hear Kaku promoting other speculative science which would have appeared to be more oriented to fascinating his lay-audience rather than imparting actual knowledge. Which relates to what Louis calls "futurism," (and which must remain "woolly-minded" in order to bypass tangible objections). A few excerpts in that regard:


..... the fourth wave of science, which is AI

The “tricorder” of Star Trek, which analyses your health by simply scanning your body, is coming.

[Humans] going back to the moon after 50 years, and then going to Mars, perhaps to the asteroids

For Musk, creating a civilisation beyond the Earth would be an insurance policy for the human race.


Now I cannot emphasize enough the damage done to thousands of scientific budgets that would be caused by diverting resources to pointless and wasteful manned (or even womanned) space missions that can very well be accomplished robotically. And the best insurance policy for the human race is to protect THIS planet, as if it were the only one that could sustain life (which it is). And not to pander to science fiction themes that may have captured people's imaginations but shouldn't be draining their wallets. Of course there will be a variety of opinions and judgements in these regards, but I really resent media stars using their prestige (in a different field!) and irresponsibly employing science fiction to generate income for businesses (like Elon Musk, given privitization after all) pursuing foolish programs for which they are paid billions of working people's wealth.

- Jeff


https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/mar/12/further-reading-michio-kaku-books-to-understand-future
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