Friday, October 17, 2003
1. SPACE RACE: SHENZHOU-5 VERSUS MERCURY-5.
On Wednesday, China
successfully launched the Shenzhou-5 space capsule into orbit
with taikonaut Yang Liwei on board and returned him safely to
Earth after 14 orbits. The first American to reach orbit, John
Glenn, circled Earth a mere three times in the Mercury-5 capsule
- 3 years before Yang was born. And this is only the beginning;
China hopes eventually to construct a permanent base on the moon.
Americans should welcome China's new direction. Sending humans
into space offers no military, economic, or scientific advantage;
rather it's a symbolic demonstration that China has arrived as an
economic power and can now afford to waste vast sums of money.
Perhaps the U.S. could help by offering China complete plans for
the space shuttle. This would serve the cause of world peace by
diverting China's resources from more dangerous adventures.
2. SPACE SCIENCE: ATTACK OF THE GIANT TOMATOES.
According to a
Chinese news agency, Yang Liwei carried a bag of vegetable seeds
into space. There have been stories coming out of China for
several weeks that exposure of seeds to space radiation produces
huge tomatoes and other vegetables. When it was pointed out to
the news agency that most mutations are harmful, WN was assured
that in China the radiation effect is always positive, leading to
bigger and better vegetables that will revolutionize agriculture.
3. PUBLIC LIBRARY OF SCIENCE: THAT ANSWERS THE
It's a grand experiment: a free online scientific journal
supported entirely by fees paid by the authors (WN
27 Jun 03).
Page charges to defray some of the cost of publishing a peer-
reviewed journal are nothing new, but the Public Library of
Science, a non-profit located in San Francisco, charges a flat
fee of $1,500 for each article. That's still pretty modest
compared to research costs, but can such a journal compete for
readers with the established journals? The first open-access
journal, PloS Biology, was launched Sunday night. In under eight
hours, PloS servers were completely overwhelmed. Clearly, it's
publishing made for a democracy. If the idea really takes off,
it will have a huge effect on the entire organization of science.
One reason for high interest in the first issue of PloS-Biology
is a startling article about thought-controlled robots.
4. THOUGHT CONTROLLED ROBOTS: I THINK, THEREFORE
THE ROBOT IS.
Duke University researchers report in PLoS-Biology that brain
activity of rhesus monkeys, picked up with probes inserted into
the brain, has been used to carry out complex reaching and
grasping motions of a robot arm. It should now be possible to
build a wi-fi remote version. It's then only a matter of time
until the courts must confront the issue of responsibility for
crimes committed by robots.