"Legal Doesn't Equal Right." Here Are This Week's Top Comments

Here are this week's top comments on Big Think content from across the Web.

Here are this week's top comments on Big Think content from across the Web.


UNITED AIRLINES' DEBACLE

Why So Many People Think the United Airlines Video Shows the Decline of America

(Paul Ratner/Big Think)

1. Justin S Thompson Legal doesn't equal right. The worst atrocities in human history were legal. If you use the state to measure morality you're gonna have a hard time.

Whenever you purchase an airline ticket, you implicitly are agreeing to contracts many thousands of words long. But just because companies establish a legal right does not mean they have a moral right. 

2. Guy W. Wallace Yes, United and all airlines have the right - given the small print on the ticket - to boot (reaccommodate) passengers. However, sending lawyers to a Social Media firestorm/fight will only inflame the masses further. Good luck rebuilding the brand. United is the friendly skies no more. And the CEO's email to employees? What an idiot (and that is being polite). THIS episode will soon become a classic business case study of what not to do in the age of mobile phone cameras and Social Media. The CEO better check his golden parachute. I have a feeling he will need it sooner rather than later.

To date, United CEO Oscar Muñoz has faced no public reprimand from the company he heads.


ARE INTELLIGENT PEOPLE LAZY BY NATURE?

Intelligent Thinkers Are Lazy, Non-Thinkers Are Active

(Shutterstock)

3. Jonathan Migas All the world's population consists of two types of people: those who are naive enough to believe that people fit into two categories, and those who aren't. 

4. Kamil Kulma Bill Gates was right!  "'I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it" Though it's crucial to distinguish between lazyness of an intelligent person and plain stupidity with a lack of idea how to perform a certain task.


WORLD OF WARCRAFT VS. HARVARD BUSINESS DEGREE

"I would rather hire a high level World of Warcraft player than an MBA from Harvard University," says researcher John Seely Brown. Find out why!

(THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images)

5. Recusant Exe There are certain skills and traits people acquire in MMORPGs and gloss over them as simply playing a game. The auction house and trading teaches a little about economics, raiding can help with problem solving and communication. Leading a raid or guild even might give you a good example of what its like to lead a team in the workplace. PvP is like an interesting game of chess (balancing issues aside) its interesting to pull a strat out if your hat to use against an obviously more geared player. There's more skills involved but Im getting lazy now 

6. Orfeas Prountzopoulos i'm glad to see that lately the game i love and i've been playing my whole life starts receiving the attention it deserves from sociologists, anthropologists etc...

IS IT SAFE TO EAT GMOS?

Perhaps GMOs aren't as scary as we thought they were? Bill Nye's changed his mind on a few things. Learn why...

(Getty Images)

7. Brendon Searle So the problem with patenting Genes is that these companies use pollinators to spread those genes to neighboring farms, then, as recorded, have tested nearby farms and filed lawsuits because (surprise) their patented gene shows up in neighboring farms. 

The other problem is things like Terminator seeds which effectively extort poor farmers in some of the poorest countries in the world to grow food and have to buy more food. It IS unethical. It may not be dangerous and it may be possible to feed many more people with GMOs but the ethics need to be examined closely when hugely profitable businesses like Monsanto are patenting genes and using these patents to increase their profit margin, or developing less than helpful genetic modifications to crops like terminator seeds.

8. RobRoy Robinson Transgenic modification is not the same as selection, they are substantially different. Sorry Bill but both you and Tyson are just wrong on this. Transgenic organisms need to be proven safe before being allowed outside a controlled environment.


EDUCATION: THE GREAT EQUALIZER

Henry Rollins outlines why some politicians are so scared of increasing access to education. This is why it's so important to level the playing field for everyone.


(Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

9. Theart Korsten As Tony Benn said in Sicko, [I am paraphrasing] "There are three ways in which governments control their people. Keep them uneducated, give them inferior healthcare and let them live in fear of their lives. Governments don't want educated, healthy empowered voters."

10. Simon Lobecke Free education does not help society at large! Those who are already in the 1% will be able to get more qualified and educated managers for their businesses yes. But free education has to be financed through increased taxes. Fact! That means more qualified managers, businessmen now have even more efficient and profitable businesses but most of the finance comes from normal workers like builders or butchers for example who have no benefit from this system...

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Major study: Drug overdoses over a 38-year period reveal hidden trends

It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction

From the study: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6408/eaau1184
Surprising Science
  • It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
  • If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
  • The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
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Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.

Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
  • You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
  • This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.

Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.

The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.


How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.

Image: NASA
Surprising Science
  • Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
  • Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
  • The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.

The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.

To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.

In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.

An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."