Friday, November 1, 2002
1. IBM TIME BOMB: ADVERTISING GIMMICK
OR QUARK-GLUON PLASMA CHIP?
Of course, I saw at once that the full-page ad for a time machine in Tuesday's
New York Times was a spoof. But I looked up at the TV and there was Fritz
Mondale, running for the US Senate from Minnesota. Whoa! Is this possible?
My only time machine is the WN archives, so I typed in "teleportation"
and was taken back to 1996. An ad in Scientific American said: "IBM scientists
have discovered a way to make an object disintegrate in one place and
reappear intact in another" (WN 26 Jan
96). So how are people supposed to distinguish what is real and what
is just advertising hype? I looked for other big ads that are too preposterous
to believe. I came up with "Vitamin O" (WN
27 Nov 98), perpetual motion (WN 5
Nov 99), and Yogic flying (WN 28
Sep 01). These are at least as preposterous as time machines, but
they weren't mere gimmicks. They were intended to defraud a gullible public.
2. HERBAL HYPE: CBS NEWS DOES AN ACCURATE
TAKE ON SUPPLEMENTS.
Sales of herbal medications have soared since passage of the 1994 Dietary
Supplement and Health Education Act, which allows natural supplements
to be marketed without proof of safety, efficacy or purity. The media,
riding the wave of popularity of alternative treatments, seemed to reinforce
the supplement-lobby hype. But since the NIH Center of Complementary and
Alternative Medicine began rigorous testing of supplements, the media
has discovered what the responsible medical community has been saying
all along: this stuff is untested, impure and often harmful (WN
23 Aug 02}. The shift was evident on Monday's CBS Evening News with
Dan Rather, which spent almost 4 minutes on the dangers of supplements.
That's a long time by network news standards.
3. SCUD DEFENSE: BUILD THEM NOW; MAYBE
WE CAN TEST THEM LATER.
During the Gulf war, the military failed to destroy a single mobile Scud
missile. Concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. troops to Iraqi Scud
missiles in a new conflict led Congress to approve funding for increased
production of the advanced Patriot missile, known as the PAC-3. Moreover,
the Pentagon would like to shift money from other missile programs to
further accelerate production. The only problem is that the PAC-3s don't
seem to work either, having fared badly in tests between February and
May (WN 17 May 02). There are proposed fixes,
but they haven't been tested at all. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld nonetheless
is leaning toward increasing PAC-3 production, in the hope that the planned
fixes will work if we ever get around to testing them. If we don't get
around to testing, what's the problem?
4. ELECTION PREDICTION: PHYSICS WILL HOLD ITS MARGIN IN CONGRESS.