Friday, August 8, 2003

1. POLITICAL SCIENCE: IS THE ADMINISTRATION DISTORTING SCIENCE?
The short answer is, "every administration does." But a report by the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee, released yesterday, says it's gotten worse. To the surprise of no one, White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the report as political, which of course it is. However, the NY Times quotes McClellan in an incredibly revealing description of administration policy: "The administration looks at the facts, and reviews the best available science based on what's right for the American people." That final clause, "what's right for the American people," is chilling.

2. POLITICAL CLIMATE: WHAT'S RIGHT FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE?
One of the purported abuses cited in the minority staff report involved the insertion into an EPA report of a reference to a paper by Soon and Baliunas that denies globl warming (WN 1 Aug 03). To appreciate its significance, we need to go back to March of 1998. We all got a petition card in the mail urging the government to reject the Kyoto accord (WN 13 Mar 98). The cover letter was signed by "Frederick Seitz, Past President, National Academy of Sciences." Enclosed was what seemed to be a reprint of a journal article, in the style and font of Proceedings of the NAS. But it had not been published in PNAS, or anywhere else. The reprint was a fake. Two of the four authors of this non- article were Soon and Baliunas. The other authors, both named Robinson, were from the tiny Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine in Cave Junction, OR. The article claimed that the environmental effects of increased CO2 are all beneficial. There was also a copy of Wall Street Journal op-ed by the Robinsons (father and son) that described increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere as "a wonderful and unexpected gift of the industrial revolution." There was no indication of who had paid for the mailing. It was a dark episode in the annals of scientific discourse.

3. BASEBALL: PHYSICS COMES TO THE AID OF THE NATIONAL PASTIME.
Well, sort of. Ivan Marusic's class in hydrodynamics at the University of Minnesota set out to investigate whether the flight of a baseball in the Metrodome, which has an inflatable roof, can be influenced by manipulating the vents. This is important: the stadium superintendent claims that when the Twins, who play in the Metrodome, won the World Series in '87 and '91, he was manipulating the vents to give the Twins an advantage. But according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which apparently inspired the project, the experiment was inconclusive: on one day, it appeared that turning on the blowers behind home plate caused fly balls, launched from a cannon, to travel an extra 3 feet. But on another day it did squat. This needs to be resolved, but there's no urgency. Today the Twins are a dismal 57-57. They're not gonna be in the series this year.

(Andrew Essin contributed to this issue of What’s New.)



Bob Park can be reached via email at whatsnew@bobpark.org
THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.