Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dr Steven Chu fixes sign error: gasoline prices should go down

In September 2008, in the month when the Lehman Brothers collapsed, the 1997 physics Nobel prize winner Dr Steven Chu has made a calculation of the optimal gasoline price in the U.S. He published his findings in the Wall Street Journal:
"Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe."
So at that time, he was also doing engineering research whose goal was to double gasoline prices in the U.S. which was calculated to be a good idea.

That was a counter-intuitive result. A layman could think that it's better to have a low price of something that is as important for the economy as gasoline. There had to be some sign error in Dr Chu's reasoning. He was very bothered by it.

And because Dr Steven Chu became the U.S. secretary of energy about 4 months after he completed the calculation of the optimal gasoline price, up to 300 million U.S. citizens were nervous about the sign error, too. They were asking: "Dr Chu is an ingenious man, but what if the doubled gasoline prices end up making our life harder, not better?"

However, as lots of media registered, Dr Steven Chu is a good physicist so after 3.5 years, he was able to fix the error.

The results of the revised paper were announced in front of the U.S. Congress a day or two days ago. Senator Mike Lee investigated the details of the revised calculation:
Secretary Chu: Since I walked in the door as Secretary of Energy I've been doing everything in powers to, uh, to do what we can to reduce these, as we see these gas prices spike, to reduce those prices. The administration, the President and I personally, yes we do acknowledge and feel the pain of not only American consumers but American businesses when they see these prices increase. And what we can do, all the tools available we are using, but in the Department of Energy's tool chest the most important thing we are doing is to offload the dependency on oil using natural gas for transportation, electrification, biofuels, all of those things. Now...

Sen. Lee: So are you saying that you no longer share the view that we need to figure out how to boost gasoline prices in America.

Sec. Chu: I no longer share that view. (See the video at JunkScience.)
Now it makes more sense; it's a similar feeling to the feelings of the folks who calculated that QCD had a negative beta-function. Congratulations to America. America is a larger, less populated continent than Europe so it should feel lucky that it is able to produce gasoline at lower prices than we have in Europe.

Hat tip: Willie

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is trying to scrap the 2030 renewable energy targets. Maybe some of the Britons have realized their own sign errors that have affected their research in recent years, too.


  1. GE commercials in the USA used to feature wind power. For months now GE has not featured wind power but instead featured jet engines and natural gas turbines for generating power. Chu had to have know like GE that the wind subsidy was noe going to be renewed by the US Senate so he chose to reverse his long held desire to raise fossil fuel prices. It was no longer smart to support higher oil prices when Americans are upset at a doubling of the gas price since Obama took office, and it is hurting Obama in his re-election campaign.

  2. They've already figured it out.