Friday, July 16, 2004
1. ETHICS: NEW CHOLESTEROL GUIDELINES DELIGHT THE DRUG COMPANIES.
A government report released on Tuesday called for drastically lowering LDL cholesterol levels of millions of high-risk heart patients. So low in fact that the only way to get there is with the help of statin drugs. On Thursday, Newsday reported that six of the nine panelists who produced the report had received grants or consulting fees from big drug companies that produce statins. That' s probably inevitable, but financial disclosure statements were not included. Just last week, we reported that researchers at NIH are failing to disclose links to pharmaceutical companies.
2. HUBBLE: SCIENCE PANEL BEGS NASA TO SPARE THE LIFE OF HUBBLE.
In a report this week, a National Academy of Sciences panel urged NASA to grant Hubble a reprieve. The popular telescope has many years of productive life ahead, provided batteries and gyroscopes are replaced. Sean O'Keefe argued a shuttle mission to Hubble would be too risky, but later agreed that robots can do the job (WN 4 Jun 04). The NAS panel scoffed, citing the irreducible complexity of robots. At What's New, we calculated that replacing bean-counting bureaucrats with robots would eliminate the federal deficit by the end of the week.
3. GRADUATE STUDENTS: PERMISSION TO FORM LABOR UNIONS IS DENIED.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled that the relationship between graduate students and universities is primarily for educational purposes. Therefore, graduate students at private universities have no right to union recognition. This was the right thing to do. Unions typically negotiate job security and wage levels. Standardized wages might be a boon to twelfth-year students of 13th century Turkish ballet, but they would certainly hurt physics students. The harm that a diminished supply of graduate students could do to a research university far outweighs the benefits of job security. The last thing a student needs is a permanent career doing graduate work.
4. NUCLEAR SECRETS: IF WE CAN'T FIND THEM, THE ENEMY CAN'T EITHER.
It's time again for the high-flying, death-defying, magically vanishing hard drives of Los Alamos! This week two data storage devices went AWOL from their nuclear weapons laboratory. A spokesman declined to state what exactly was gone, but suggested it was "a serious situation." All classified research has been halted while the search continues. This is just the latest in the lab's long history of losing sensitive data, and the third such incident this year. Sometimes as an encore, fraud investigators make the Los Alamos director disappear (WN 3 Jan 03), along with everything in his desk.
Paul Gresser contributed to this week's issue of What's New.