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Articles by Keith Yost

STAFF COLUMNIST
April 1, 2011
Let us begin with one obvious fact: the decision to establish detention camps at Guantanamo Bay has cost us much more than we have gained.
STAFF COLUMNIST
April 1, 2011
In his defense of Guantanamo Bay (and of our detention policy in general), Yost makes a fair point — our legal system, at its core, is a decision-making system with Type I and Type II errors, and the Guantanamo Bay detainees form a category of suspects that do not appropriately fit into either of our existing legal pathways.
STAFF COLUMNIST
April 1, 2011
Forget for a moment all of the legal exegesis of whether or not the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are prisoners of war (subject to indefinite detention and military tribunals), civilians (subject to the court system of the United States), or “unlawful combatants” (constituting a newly defined class of suspects). A legal system is, at its core, a decision-maker, determining whether alleged criminals are innocent or guilty. Like any other imperfect decision-maker, the system has two types of error: Type I error (deciding a person is guilty when they are innocent), and Type II error (deciding a person is innocent when they are guilty). For a legal system with a given degree of accuracy, we can trade-off between the two types of error, reducing Type I at the expense of increasing Type II, or vice-versa.
STAFF COLUMNIST
March 29, 2011
First Solar, an American company, makes the best solar cells on the face of the planet. Their devices, while still an eternity away from being cost-competitive with conventional sources of power, are staggeringly far ahead of the rest of the photovoltaic field. The reason for their considerable lead is an innovative new technology for harnessing photons, using cadmium telluride (CdTe) in lieu of traditional crystalline silicon. Theirs is a story of American ingenuity and inventiveness. It is also a story about how we will not “win the future” through innovation.
STAFF COLUMNIST
March 18, 2011
In the last issue of The Tech, I tried to explain the events at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and gave my opinion, as someone with two nuclear engineering degrees from MIT, as to what I thought the situation on the ground was and the likely course of events. In particular, I made three important claims:
STAFF COLUMNIST
March 15, 2011
As a nuclear engineer, it is depressing to read the recent reports on the Fukushima nuclear incident — not because of the incident itself (at this point I strongly believe that we will remember Fukushima as evidence of how safe nuclear power is when done right) — but because the media coverage of the event has been rife with errors so glaring that I have to wonder if anyone in the world of journalism has ever taken a physics class. My favorite: in one article, boric acid was described as a “nutrient absorber” instead of a “neutron absorber.” How many editors signed off on that line without asking, “Why would a nuclear reactor need to absorb nutrients?”
STAFF COLUMNIST
March 8, 2011
For a people who have been under the thumb of a dictator for over four decades, Libyans sure do make up for lost time. In the course of just a couple weeks, the rebels in Libya have done much to end Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule. They have gained effective control, in terms of area, of most of the country, leaving the old regime buttoned up in Tripoli and a few surrounding areas.
STAFF COLUMNIST
March 4, 2011
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is not typically a place where speakers challenge their audiences. CPAC is a three-day pep rally, a conservative Woodstock, a forum for, as Ronald Reagan once said during a speech there, “dancing with them who brung you.” It is a celebration of conservatism, rather than a serious reflection on its future. A slick politician would take the opportunity to pander to the army of conservative organizers and activists that populate the conference, rather than delivering Cassandra-like predictions.
STAFF COLUMNIST
March 1, 2011
Let’s start with one basic, almost indisputable fact: the likely effect of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) will be to make our military weaker. Judging by the recent survey of servicemen, the Marine Corps will suffer the greatest impact: of those marines who say they’ve actually served with a homosexual leader, co-worker, or subordinate, they reported that in 28 percent of instances it worsened their unit’s ability to work together, in 26 percent it reduced unit morale, and in 25 percent it harmed the unit’s performance. Virtually no Marines reported that having an effectively open homosexual in their immediate unit had a positive effect.
STAFF COLUMNIST
March 1, 2011
A friend once complained to me that she couldn’t trust Republicans. Paraphrasing her words: “You see them in interviews on cable news and it’s uncanny — they’re all using the exact same phrase to describe a situation. Every hour, on the hour, you’ve got a right-wing talking head repeating the line of the day, and I can’t help but think that there’s some secret board of shadowy figures, passing out memos to conservatives that tell them what they’ll be saying.”
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