Jon Ashton

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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Hendrik Poinar: Bring back the woolly mammoth!
If you think about it, we as a species spend a tremendous amount of time going backwards. We write and record history. We paint and record our thoughts. We store memories to share with cameras and video. We learn from our past and our shared experiences. It's part of what makes us human and helps us evolve our culture. This is an expression of that same drive. We wish to look back on the environment and the animals that inhabited it in the past. I know I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was young. It started my interest in biology. I don't think it is wrong for us to consider the possibility that a great deal about life and evolution could be learned from such a de-extinction project. It's definitely worth thinking about and debating. It's not idiocy.
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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Hendrik Poinar: Bring back the woolly mammoth!
I completely agree on the issue of funding. Donors have the right to choose which research projects they wish to support. Many cancer, heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, etc projects are large, well-funded and only inching along towards new results. I shouldn't feel obligated to support such a cause if I cared more about another cause. The last thing I want is some self-righteous individual preaching to me about where I should or should not spend my money. If you want to argue that money shouldn't be spent on a project to revive extinct species, you'd be more persuasive describing the dangers or ethical bounds of doing such research. I for one think it would be a tremendous step for science, a proof of concept that, if we wanted to, we could use similar techniques to save endangered species from extinction. The knowledge and techniques involved are both incredibly powerful and incredibly versatile and may have uses far beyond their originally intended purpose.
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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Hendrik Poinar: Bring back the woolly mammoth!
I think there are two bigger questions that need to be considered. We know that an organism is not just the sum of it's DNA. 1) While we learn how to behave like humans from our parents, where would a mammoth learn to behave like a mammoth? It's parents and all the rest of it's kind are dead. It wouldn't learn the migratory paths we think it took. It would have to learn from scratch and the result would invariably be different from the mammoths of old. Does that matter? 2) Human beings are comprised of trillions of cells 90% of which are bacterial symbiotes living on our skin or in our alimentary tract. If these ecosystems are disrupted, we get things like acne and diarrhea. Would it be worth considering that we don't know what bacteria lived symbiotically with mammoths and that it would be impossible to recreate them without a mammoth parent to provide them? We would have to hope an elephant would have a close enough microbiota to fill the gap and keep our new mammoth healthy.
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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Hendrik Poinar: Bring back the woolly mammoth!
One of the most common arguments for preserving the tropical rainforests and the world's coral reefs is that within the biodiversity of those environments, within those species, there may indeed be some molecule or protein that may give us the insight we need for a breakthrough medical treatment. Aspirin, among countless other drugs is an example. It is not outside the realm of possibility you could make the same argument here. We'll never have a better opportunity to study this creature than if we re-created it in it's entirety. On another note, your hostility is not helpful in a TED forum discussion. Ideas and well-stated arguments are welcome, even for those who don't speak English well. Insults should be left outside the door.
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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Taylor Wilson: My radical plan for small nuclear fission reactors
From the tone of the comments I've read, most everyone is impressed with this young man's ability to understand, achieve, and get involved in some very complex discussions at such a young age. No one seems to be taking that away from him. For my part, my criticisms were based on how he has presented himself and his ideas. He has made reference to a lot of work done by others who have laid the groundwork for the understanding and discussion of this type of reactor. It's been discussed before, often, and in detail. Yet he presents his design as a new innovation, while focusing his discussion on the parts of the design that are not innovative. What sets his design apart from other ideas that have been presented? The fuel? No, it's been done. The coolant? Not new. The safety mechanisms: a dump tank and a low pressure chemistry? Not new. The idea of burying it? Not new. The idea of using it in space? Not new. I don't mean to be harsh here, but if he is going to take credit, he should take credit for work he's done while giving appropriate credit to those on whose shoulders he's standing. Again, this is not to say he's not brilliant and absolutely to be encouraged, just that he may benefit from a little less pretentiousness and a little more humility. He'll learn and I can't wait to see his next talk!
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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Taylor Wilson: My radical plan for small nuclear fission reactors
His isn't really a LFTR though. He's suggesting using uranium and plutonium from old nuclear warheads as fuel, which is a good idea in itself since our current alternatives are to secure them or bury them in some mountain in Nevada. That said, yeah, this is not really new at all (the concept has been around since the 1950s) and TED has even published talks about it: http://www.ted.com/talks/kirk_sorensen_thorium_an_alternative_nuclear_fuel.html Mr. Sorensen has suggested the use of molten salts, the smaller design of the reactor itself, the idea that it would be buried, the idea that if it melted down, it would dump the fuel into an emergency chamber that would stop the reaction, etc, etc. He has gone into great technical detail (he's an engineer after all) in some of his talks on YouTube. I'm quite willing to give Taylor a pass on this because he's young, excited, eager to learn, and still has a great deal of potential to do good things in this world. He just needs to get into contact with (and give appropriate credit to) some of the people who are laying the groundwork for him.
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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Taylor Wilson: My radical plan for small nuclear fission reactors
I'm glad you made this point. I was definitely thinking as I was watching this "this kid is standing on the shoulders of giants" and using "I" far too often. Two possibilities: 1) the format of the talk is too short for a whole lot of citations and details or 2) he hasn't had the formal academic coaching to know that he really needs to be informed about and referencing LFTR and MSR when he's talking about this topic. In fact, this topic has been covered on TED already: http://www.ted.com/talks/kirk_sorensen_thorium_an_alternative_nuclear_fuel.html The talks are similar in terms of ideas. I'm not suggesting anything unseemly or inappropriate on Taylor's part, only that this is a good idea that's been spoken of before and that it is good practice and good courtesy to acknowledge it. His version of the design is still a good idea and bears repeating because it is: less costly, far safer, more efficient, and far more deliverable than the current version of nuclear power that we have today. It is a solution worth more attention.
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Jon Ashton
Posted about 2 years ago
Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim
It truth, that's not really a counterargument. People are entitled to their opinions and to vote upon their basis in this country. Whether they are open-minded or not to anything is absolutely and totally irrelevant. If you want the people to speak, then it means all the people get a voice, even those who are "closed-minded" and "uninformed" and "ignorant." I use those terms in quotations because they are often misattritributed in political rhetoric and used synonymously with "you don't agree with me and are a bad person for it," and I find that connotation to be insulting, so I won't use it. In a country with 315 million people, there is a wide spectrum of political beliefs, all of which, theoretically would be averaged and balanced by a truly democratic vote. I would think a stronger counterargument is that it requires active participation with a citizenry that's not used to being actively involved in politics. In order to choose candidates, you have to work to find out about them, often despite clear manipulation of their stances and opinions from various media outlets. It takes work, and Americans who don't prioritize that often boil down their ballot choices to name recognition and the (D) or (R) behind the name on the ballot. For a true democracy to work, we as citizens need to work at it, and many of us honestly don't want to.
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Jon Ashton
Posted over 2 years ago
Afra Raymond: Three myths about corruption
I think I understand the dilemma here. The word "racist" is often abused in modern usage. It has become a curse word to be flung as an insult more often than correctly applied per it's definition. I would not have even thought to apply racism to this discussion, as it has nothing to do with race, nor ethnicity. I do not believe that one race or ethnicity is more prone to corruption than any other, and truth be told, I think the entire concept of race is antiquated and doesn't really fit in modern society. I believe that any person is capable of being corrupt, and that we, as individuals are responsible for our own actions. If, for example, I embezzled money from a government or corporation while in a position of power or public trust, it is me who has failed. It is me who deserves the blame and the punishment, not the system. The system didn't force me to take money that did not belong to me. Does this help clarify what I was trying to say?