Friday, April 30, 2004
1. NASA SCIENCE: IS THE SPACE AGENCY BECOMING JUST A THEME PARK?
For a million years our species was confronted with a world we could not hope to understand. Now, almost within the span of a single human lifetime, the book of nature has been thrown open. We aspire to solve the great mysteries: dark matter, dark energy, why there is mass, the big bang, and the origin of life. We long to know. Instead, according to the New York Times, experiments to unravel these great mysteries have been assigned low priority, along with anything that has to do with global warming (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/27/science/space/27NASA.html). This will allow NASA to focus its resources on human exploration, pandering to a public weaned on Star Trek. NASA’s priorities will delay real exploration by decades, vastly increase costs, and put lives at risk. You might suppose NASA would hold off until the President’s Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond makes its report in June (WN 16 Apr 04). The Moon/Mars Commission, was apparently mere window dressing. The only appeal open to scientists is to members of Congress.
2. MISSILE DEFENSE: GAO REPORT SAYS TESTS HAVE BEEN UNREALISTIC.
We started to use interviews with our usual fictitious experts from the Missile Defense Agency, Puff Panegyric and General Persiflage, to tell this story. But we could not invent dialogue that measured up to quotes in the Washington Post from General Kadish, Missile Defense Agency director. Explaining why tests don’t affect plans to deploy: "You can’t operationally test the system, until you put it in place." We have extensive computer modeling based on test results, he says. But How do we know the models are valid? "Because they accurately predict the test results." Maybe there’s a better way. Why not test the system against the ISS? If it works, we immediately free up some of the $11B promised when ISS and the shuttles are retired.
3. NUCLEAR WEAPONS: NORTH KOREA NOW REPORTED TO HAVE EIGHT BOMBS.
How many would you like? When justification was needed to invade Iraq, the intelligence consensus was that the country bristled with weapons of mass destruction. Now, with the Pentagon getting ready to deploy a missile defense in Alaska, the Washington Post reports that the intelligence estimate of nuclear weapons held by North Korea is about to jump from two to eight. How do they get eight. Well, they know how many fuel rods N. Korea has, so they calculate how much Pu that could breed. It’s easy, we can calculate the number of bombs in every country with a reactor.
4. DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS: CONSUMER REPORTS LISTS THE "DIRTY DOZEN."
A cover story in the May issue of Consumer Reports identifies 12 supplements that should be banned, increasing pressure to amend or repeal the obscene 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (WN 02 Jan 04).