28 December 2001
1. ARMS REDUCTION: BUSH NOW BELIEVES SUCH PROGRAMS ARE WORKING.
Back in March, the President was openly skeptical of $750M being
spent to assist Russia in the destruction of nuclear and chemical
weapons. When National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice ordered
a review of 30 such programs
(WN 30 Mar 01),
it was seen as a
first step in a move to eliminate or reduce them. Yesterday,
however, in a remarkable display of Presidential flexibility,
President Bush issued a statement saying most of the programs
appear to be worthwhile and pledged more money to help Russia in
such projects as disposing of weapons grade plutonium.
2. BASKERVILLE EFFECT: IS SUPERSTITIOUS FEAR A HEALTH RISK?
Actually, this was not a really big week for science-policy news.
What we did find was a report in the British Medical Journal that
Chinese and Japanese Americans have a 7% greater death rate from
chronic heart disease on the 4th day of the month. There was no
such peak in the deaths of white Americans. Since both Chinese
and Japanese regard the number four as unlucky, the researchers
conclude that cardiac mortality increases on psychologically
stressful occasions. They named the effect after Charles
Baskerville, a character in the Arthur Conan Doyle story "The
Hound of the Baskervilles," who suffers a fatal heart attack from
extreme psychological stress. This led the principal author,
UCSD sociologist David Phillips, to conclude that Conan Doyle
"was not only a great writer but a remarkably intuitive physician
as well." Whoa! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was in fact hopelessly
superstitious, believing devoutly in the existence of fairies.
3. UNBASKERVILLE EFFECT: IF SUPERSTITION CAN KILL, CAN IT CURE?
A 1999 study claimed that coronary patients in a Kansas City
hospital did better if volunteers prayed for them without their
(WN 29 Oct 99).
But a just-released study at the Mayo
Clinic found no significant difference between heart patients who
were the object of intercessory prayers and those who were not.
4. WHAT WILL BE NEW IN 2002: WN's ANNUAL LOOK INTO THE FUTURE.
Properly interpreted, predictions for 2001
(WN 29 Dec 00)
were right on target. Once again WN puts its reputation on the line:
- Now that it's been shown that YUCCA MOUNTAIN won't be the
site of a new volcano, proponents of the nuclear waste site
will be asked to show it can withstand an asteroid impact.
- Every 2002 NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE test, once properly
analyzed by the Pentagon, will be scored as a success.
- The INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION will be privatized. It may
be acquired by Marriot for use as an executive suite.