RIP Net Neutrality, an 8-Planet System, and a Green Lining on a Trash-Fire Budget | Vol. 5 / No. 8

Photo: Credo Action, CC BY 2.0

This week we’ve got the bad news from the FCC, a first in our search for new planets, and a tiny green lining on the trash-fire budget that spares green energy incentives. It’s the science and technology roundup for Sunday, December 17, 2017.

RIP Net Neutrality

Okay let’s eat our vegetables first this week and start with the worst: Ajit Pai, head of the FCC, went ahead with his plans to repeal Title II classification for ISPs and the protections for consumers it entails, effectively ending Net Neutrality. He’s also claiming that his ruling preempts state laws in the works that would more locally guarantee New Neutrality, and as a result he’s being sued by the Attorneys General from (at least) New York, Oregon, Illinois, Iowa, and Massachusetts, and Chuck Schumer has promised a vote in the Senate to overturn the ruling. The latter isn’t likely to succeed, and the former will take a long time in the courts, but we should hear about whether there’ll be a preliminary injunction in the coming week or two.

I can’t stress enough how ignorant and smug Ajit Pai is, but his insulting and embarrassing video about things you can still do without Net Neutrality video is a great demonstration.

If you want to know what I think about this whole thing, well, I wrote two twitter threads this week about it. The first is a rant about why we had Title II protections in the first place (and why the WSJ has its head up its ass about it), and the second is about things we could do without Title II (but that nobody’s actually doing because Ajit Pai is intensely disingenuous about basically everything to do with this issue.)

So I guess go read those, and we’ll see how this all shakes out.


Artist’s conception of the various planets of the Kepler 90 system (not to scale) | Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Wendy Stenzel

Kepler 90i

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s something cool: an eighth planet in the Kepler 90 star system! Weirder still is that it wasn’t discovered by a human. Well, not technically, anyway. Kepler 90i (90a is the star itself) was discovered using data from NASA’s Kepler and Kepler 2 missions, but it was discovered by an AI. Two scientists, Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg, taught it to sift through the Kepler data in the way a human would, and as is so often the case, it learned to do it better than humans. We already know the Kepler-90 system had planets, but this brings the total to eight—the first solar system we’ve seen that has as many planets as our own! (for now.) We’re only just scratching the surface in the search for planets. I can’t wait until 2019 when the JWST will (hopefully) launch and start looking at the thousands of planets we’ve already found (so long as the funding holds out). You can read more at NASA, and watch this fun little animation below.


Spared for now | Photo: Don Graham, CC BY-SA 2.0

Renewables Spared by Trash-Fire Budget

In all the shuffle to steal from the poor to give to the rich, thankfully reports have surfaced that the final budget bill will not contain language eliminating tax credits for production and investment in renewable energy. This is a small win overall, but important as those credits have been seen to increase the speed at which wind and solar have been installed in the US (and that’s a good thing). There is a little worry that its interaction with a provision designed to prevent foreign companies from taking advantage of the credits may alter the investment landscape, but overall it’s a positive outcome. It also maintains a $7500 tax credit for purchasing electric vehicles (which I’m sure Tesla is happy about). On the flip side, it’s a massive scheme to shift wealth from the poor and middle class to the very, very rich, it allows drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (OIL DRILLING IN A WILDLIFE REFUGE), and will add $1Trillion to the debt over the next ten years, which is just obscene, really. But green energy tax credits are safe, so… there’s that. You can read more at Reuters.


Best of the Rest

And because time is limited in December, here’s just a few other things I saw this week that I would’ve talked about if I’d had a moment:

That’s all for today, folks. Have the best week you can, under the circumstances.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, YA author, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.