Friday, July 12, 2002
1. SPACE STATION: SCIENCE PANEL WANTS TO SEE A LITTLE SCIENCE.
The International Space Station was sold to Congress as science, but a
$5B budget shortfall halted work on two of the modules and the crew was
cut from 7 to a Mir-sized 3 (WN 9 Nov
01). It was that or hire Arthur Anderson to do the accounting. The
need for budgetary discipline also led to a bean counter from OMB, Sean
O'Keefe replacing Dan Goldin (WN 16
Nov 01). In March, O'Keefe named a 20 member panel of scientists-turned-administrators,
mostly from the life sciences, to assess the ISS research priorities.
The panel reported to the NASA Advisory Council on Wednesday that there
is no research on the ISS to assess. The crew of 3 can barely find time
to clean the toilet. So the panel called for a larger crew, completion
of the unfinished modules, and more resupply missions. In other words,
undo everything done in March to deal with budget overruns. What were
they thinking? It makes no sense to have a research laboratory that does
no research, but $5B is a lot of money. Do we want to spend triple the
NSF research budget to have a bigger crew? The only thing the ISS has
going for it is micro-gravity, but decades of micro- gravity research
on the Shuttle and Mir had no discernable impact on any field of science.
Congress may be in a mood to scrap the giant money-shredder; scientists
should plead with them to do it.
2. MISCONDUCT: INQUIRY AT BELL LABS IS BROADENED.
The scope of the investigation into possible data fabrication has expanded
to include four papers dealing with superconductivity. As with the dozen
or so papers that initiated the inquiry, involving the use of organic
molecules in microelectronics, the lead author on the novel superconductivity
papers was Jan Hendrik Schon. This is a trip into unfamiliar territory
for physicists, who have seen few cases of outright fabrication. However,
the Council of the American Physical Society has issued formal statements
dealing not only with fabrication and plagiarism, but with far more prevalent
forms of misconduct, such as automatic co-authorship of someone who has
made no substantive contribution to the work: Integrity in Physics http://www.aps.org/statements/87_1.cfm
Professional Conduct http://www.aps.org/statements/91_8.cfm
3. YUCCA MOUNTAIN: THE DEBATE FINALLY WENT CRITICAL.
By a vote
of 60 to 39, the Senate overrode Nevada's veto of a plan to
consolidate nuclear waste. There will be court challenges. The
most irresponsible attempt to block the repository came from
physicists. In 1995 two Los Alamos physicists, who just happened
to favor a plan to transmute fissile waste in an accelerator,
claimed there was a danger that the mountain could go critical.
The only support for their claim came from physicists at Savannah
River, who just happened to favor vitrification of stored waste.
Christy Fernandez assisted with this week's What's New.