23 March 2001
1. MIR MISSES BOB: RUSSIANS MANAGE TO HIT THE PACIFIC OCEAN.
The odds of getting hit by Mir may seem small, but how big could they
have been that a century-old oak would fall just as I ran by?
2. DOUBLE ANNIVERSARY: PROMISES WERE MADE TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
On 23 March 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic
Defense Initiative. He called on scientists, "those who gave us
the atomic bomb," to turn their great talents to developing a
missile defense that would render nuclear weapons "impotent and
obsolete." Six years later, on 23 March 1989, the discovery of
"cold fusion" was announced. Coincidence? Either that or Nancy
Reagan and Stanley Pons used the same astrologer. Remarkably,
there has been equal progress on missile defense and cold fusion.
3. CLIMATE CHANGE: NEW MIT STUDY CALCULATES THE ODDS.
The MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change has
released an "Uncertainty Analysis of Global Climate Change
Projections." The study is meant to improve public understanding
of the climate issue. It assumes that the public can grasp a
prediction given in terms of the odds. For example: "the median
projection shows a global mean surface temperature rise from 1900
to 2100 of 2.5C with a 95% confidence interval of 0.9C to 4.8C."
Just how this will fly with a public that is willing to stand in
line for hours to buy lottery tickets is yet to be seen.
4. BUDGET RESOLUTION: WHO'S GIVING THE PRESIDENT SCIENCE ADVICE?
Well, apparently no one, which would account for the grim
science budget figures, among other things. This week, Rush Holt
(D-NJ), a physicist, sought to amend the budget resolution,
adding $1B to function 250 which includes science. The amendment
failed on what I assume was a straight party-line vote. When the
budget is completed before a new President names a Science
Advisor, the consequences for the science budget are usually
devastating. So far, there are not even many credible rumors.
5. CENSORING DARWIN: ARKANSAS IS EXPECTED TO TRY AGAIN.
The House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs of the
Arkansas legislature has forwarded a measure to the full House
that would bar mention of evolution or radio-carbon dating from
state funded textbooks. The committee vote came exactly 20 years
after the Arkansas legislature passed a similar law, which was
subsequently ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In spite of the growing conservatism of the Court, there is
little reason to suppose this measure would fare any better.
6. EMF AND CANCER: TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL?
Consumer groups and politicians in Rome have charged that the likely cause of a
cancer cluster around the Vatican is a high-powered radio
transmission tower used by the Church to spread the holy word.