26 October 2001
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: THE 1972 ABM TREATY STILL STANDS IN THE WAY.
On Monday, it looked like a sure thing. A front-page headline in
the Washington Post read, "Bush and Putin Edge Closer to Missile
Deal." The deal presumably was that, in spite of the ABM treaty,
Russia would allow us to build a missile defense if we would
agree to major cuts in nuclear arsenals. By Tuesday, the Post
was acknowledging on page 19 that "Missile Pact Still Divides
U.S., Russia." This morning, the Post headline was: "Missile
Defense Tests Are Put Off," at least until after the scheduled 3-
day visit of Putin starting Nov. 12, as WN predicted two months
ago. The New York Times quotes an administration official as
explaining that there was "no need to do something provocative."
2. SCIENCE ADVISOR: JOHN H. MARBURGER III IS CONFIRMED BY SENATE.
Nominated by President Bush in June
(WN 22 Jun 01),
Marburger's confirmation was assured even as the nation faced a technological
threat unlike any other in our history. With a PhD in Physics
from Stanford (1962) and experience as a physics professor,
university president, and Director of Brookhaven National Lab,
there was never a question of whether Marburger is qualified to
serve as the President's science advisor and head of OSTP.
3. MARS ODYSSEY: CONVERSION OF UNITS DIDN'T SEEM TO BE A PROBLEM.
The first Mars probe since the multiple disasters of '99 is
expected to search for evidence of water on the barren planet.
4. ALTERNATIVE READING: TWO VERY DIFFERENT BOOKS DEFEND SCIENCE.
When John Diamond, a popular columnist for the London Times, died
after a seven-year fight with cancer, he left six chapters of "an
uncomplimentary book about complementary medicine." Fortunately,
his unfinished book has been published as "Snake Oil" (Vintage,
London, 2001). As a very public cancer victim, Diamond had been
targeted by the purveyors of alternative medicine with promises
of miracles. But to the end, he never lost his sense of humor,
nor his confidence in the simple logic of the scientific method.
Steven Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com, has also written a
book exposing health scams: "Junk Science Judo" (Cato Institute,
Washington, 2001), but Milloy focuses his ire on gross abuses of
statistics to support unscientific claims. Many of his targets
are familiar to readers of WN: baloney statistics on cell phones,
alar, low-level nuclear waste, power-line EMF, radon etc. I
found myself getting uncomfortable, however, when he attacked
studies that claim second-hand smoke is a serious health problem,
or that gun locks save children's lives. It was the choice of
targets in such a target-rich field that bothered me. We should
never tolerate sloppy science, and the evidence in these cases is
sloppy to say the least. Still, I could not bring myself to feel
sorry for the gun owners, much less the tobacco companies.