But first . . . BOREALIS

Chris Williams: “You have your choice. You can have one of the following:

1) Congratulations!! You were right all along and we skeptics will now live out our lives in relative poverty whilst you elevate to rub elbows as a peer of Bill Gates.

2) You are way out of control, Andy. Here’s the press release quote . . .

“We are striving to help our aerospace customers operate more efficiently, cleanly and quietly at airports,’ said Jim Renton, a director of Technology Integration in Boeing Phantom Works, the company’s advanced research and development unit. ‘Our testing has shown that onboard electric motors can be very useful in achieving that goal if packaging, weight and flight-related technical issues identified during these tests can be resolved.”

“Guy, that is Boeing-speak for, ‘We completed our contract to perform this test and there is no way in hell we are going to say this is a great thing and will make money for anyone.’

“The ominous phrase is ‘resolve technical issues’ and the inclusion of the word ‘weight’ and ‘packaging issues’ is devastating. I gotta suspect they can’t strap a motor that heavy that far forward of the center of gravity of the aircraft and have it not nose into the ground on takeoff. And worse, packaging issues means it is too big to retract into the nose gear wheel well. These are huge investment issues.

“There are no rearview mirrors on airliners. The doods with the red batons are still going to get paid on pushback.

“Maybe you’ll get a few points on the stock. Maybe more. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t go counting your billions until Boeing says they are putting these motors on the first 787 production run.”

☞ Thanks, Chris. Of course you’re right about not counting billions. And the one time I ever rubbed elbows with Bill Gates was 20 years ago, at a technology conference I snuck into. Trust me, I never expect to meet him again.

But here’s what I think you’re missing. Let’s say the weight and packaging issues cannot be resolved and there’s no use for this thing in aircraft. How about elevators? Cars? Golf carts? Locomotives? Subway cars? Can you think of ANYTHING that might benefit from a revolutionary new electric motor technology?

If the answer is no, then – assuming the other technologies are equally worthless and the giant iron ore deposit proves valueless for some reason also – I am correct in what I’ve been saying all along: this investment is risky! You could lose your money!

But where before one might have just rolled one’s eyes at all the crazy technological claims, and the iron ore, it seems to me that now you have to consider that these things are probably real . . . at least in the sense that they are not complete pipe dreams or intentional frauds.

It is certainly possible that nothing will come of any of this. But – and again, it may be wishful thinking on my part, ’cause I sure would love to see it – it now seems to me somewhat unlikely that the company has no value. Before the 767 moved, just the opposite was true: it seemed unlikely any of this could actually be real.

(AND THIS JUST IN from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, complete with a drawing of the prototype assembly.)

Dan: “My guess is that Boeing set the standards for the test to closely simulate real world requirements and satisfy themselves as to speed, agility, heating limits, and on and on. It seems apparent to me the WheelTug and Chorus/Borealis satisfied those requirements. If it hadn’t there would not have been anything with Boeing’s name at the top.”

Doug Mohn: “How come [Borealis CEO] Mr. Cox only owns 48,165 shares of Chorus and 20,549 shares of Borealis out of 5 million shares. Why doesn’t he own 70-80% of the company? Now it appears that the Parmenides Group is a Cox Family trust of and own 1/3 of Borealis, but why the subterfuge? Or course, why everything about this company?

“These companies seem to be the creation of a very smart and idiosyncratic individual who is intent to prove the world wrong. He might very well be a genius, but I think he is also a perennial dreamer, and I doubt he takes the advice of others too well. A good business consultant could really help him clean up the mystery around the question, but it doesn’t seem like Mr. Cox is interested in clearing the confusion.

“No doubt Mr. Cox really believes in what he is doing, but so did the carnival promoter who thought his horse could really count out the answer to simple math problems by stomping his feet up to the correct number. Funny, but the horse could never count when the promoter wasn’t present and signaling with his arms. It would be nice to know how well that little tug could work when the Chorus team wasn’t configuring the experiment as well – just how close to production ready was the test device.

“So I will pass on this speculation, but I am eagerly awaiting a new chapter in your next edition of My Vast Fortune, ‘How I climbed to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar only to fall into the sea.’

“On a serious note, as DNC Treasurer, you should put a 100-foot pole between you and this stock and maybe only mention it once a quarter if at all. Should this stock really take off and then later crash, I don’t think you want to see your name in the New York Times over a stock scam. DNC TREASURER TOUTED STOCK OF MISSING SCIENTIST – MILLIONS LOST. On the bright side, since a Democrat would be involved, the SEC would get off its butt and actually investigate.

“I know you have high integrity and you always state a long disclaimer in front of your Chorus/Borealis articles but please be careful.”

☞ The horse thing I get. And I once did a story on Uri Geller, who bent spoons without touching them (though not really, of course). But how do you fake moving an Air Canada Boeing 767? David Copperfield could doubtless make one disappear. But drive it around the tarmac like a golf cart?

I appreciate your counsel. I can only promise you that if we lose money on this speculation – as we certainly may – I will lose more than any of my readers.

Gary Diehl: “If you are buying a stock long term at $12 with the hope that over time it will one day reach $100, what difference does it make if you place a market or limit order? Will you pay significantly more with a market order, and don’t you risk missing the purchase altogether with a limit order? I know you mentioned that it was thinly traded, how does this affect the type of order you should place?”

☞ Back when the stock was selling around $4 or $5 and Boeing issued its first announcement a couple of years ago, one of our readers put in a market order and paid $11. Had he put in with a limit of $6, I expect he would have paid $6, even if it took all day to fill the order.

If you’re buying just 100 or 200 shares, a market order is probably OK. For anything more than 100 or 200 shares, I’d be sure to protect myself with a limit order – even if it’s a dollar above whatever is the quoted asking price (to increase the likelihood of getting the order filled).

And now . . .

EVOLUTION (continued)

Tim Kreider: “A reader of yours who is also a reader of mine suggested I send you a link to this cartoon, which I drew last year. I think he thought you’d enjoy it based on your posts about evolution vs. ‘intelligent design.'”

☞ I love it.

The estimable Paul Lerman: “A great article in the London Times on this topic.”

May 21, 2005

Creationism: God’s gift to the ignorant
As the Religious Right tries to ban the teaching of evolution in Kansas, Richard Dawkins speaks up for scientific logic

Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it: ‘Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.’ Science mines ignorance. Mystery – that which we don’t yet know; that which we don’t yet understand – is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do.

Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. Worse, it threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect that creationism or ‘intelligent design theory’ (ID) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well financed. ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name.

It isn’t even safe for a scientist to express temporary doubt as a rhetorical device before going on to dispel it.

‘To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.’ You will find this sentence of Charles Darwin quoted again and again by creationists. They never quote what follows. Darwin immediately went on to confound his initial incredulity. Others have built on his foundation, and the eye is today a showpiece of the gradual, cumulative evolution of an almost perfect illusion of design. The relevant chapter of my Climbing Mount Improbable is called ‘The fortyfold Path to Enlightenment’ in honour of the fact that, far from being difficult to evolve, the eye has evolved at least 40 times independently around the animal kingdom.

The distinguished Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin is widely quoted as saying that organisms ‘appear to have been carefully and artfully designed’. Again, this was a rhetorical preliminary to explaining how the powerful illusion of design actually comes about by natural selection. The isolated quotation strips out the implied emphasis on ‘appear to’, leaving exactly what a simple-mindedly pious audience – in Kansas, for instance – wants to hear.

The deceitful misquoting of scientists to suit an anti-scientific agenda ranks among the many unchristian habits of fundamentalist authors. But such Telling Lies for God (the book title of the splendidly pugnacious Australian geologist Ian Plimer) is not the most serious problem. There is a more important point to be made, and it goes right to the philosophical heart of creationism.

The standard methodology of creationists is to find some phenomenon in nature which Darwinism cannot readily explain. Darwin said: ‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.’ Creationists mine ignorance and uncertainty in order to abuse his challenge. ‘Bet you can’t tell me how the elbow joint of the lesser spotted weasel frog evolved by slow gradual degrees?’ If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, a default conclusion is drawn: ‘Right, then, the alternative theory; ‘intelligent design’ wins by default.’

Notice the biased logic: if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right! Notice, too, how the creationist ploy undermines the scientist’s rejoicing in uncertainty. Today’s scientist in America dare not say: ‘Hm, interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frog’s ancestors did evolve their elbow joint. I’ll have to go to the university library and take a look.’ No, the moment a scientist said something like that the default conclusion would become a headline in a creationist pamphlet: ‘Weasel frog could only have been designed by God.’

I once introduced a chapter on the so-called Cambrian Explosion with the words: ‘It is as though the fossils were planted there without any evolutionary history.’ Again, this was a rhetorical overture, intended to whet the reader’s appetite for the explanation. Inevitably, my remark was gleefully quoted out of context. Creationists adore ‘gaps’ in the fossil record.

Many evolutionary transitions are elegantly documented by more or less continuous series of changing intermediate fossils. Some are not, and these are the famous ‘gaps’. Michael Shermer has wittily pointed out that if a new fossil discovery neatly bisects a ‘gap’, the creationist will declare that there are now two gaps! Note yet again the use of a default. If there are no fossils to document a postulated evolutionary transition, the assumption is that there was no evolutionary transition: God must have intervened.

The creationists’ fondness for ‘gaps’ in the fossil record is a metaphor for their love of gaps in knowledge generally. Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is God’s gift to Kansas.

Richard Dawkins, FRS, is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, at Oxford University. His latest book is The Ancestor’s Tale


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