Friday, January 19, 2007
Three years ago, along with many others, WN covered the story of
a creationist book on sale in Grand Canyon National Park that
attributed the Grand Canyon to Noah's flood. The book is still
on sale, and there are still plaques at scenic overlooks quoting
Genesis. A 28 Dec 06 press release from PEER (Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility) charged that Park Service
employees are not allowed to give visitors an official estimate
of the age of the canyon. What's New, Doonesbury, Skeptic
magazine and a host of other sources with skeptical credentials,
bought into that story too. This time, however, the charge was
apparently fabricated. We are grateful to Michael Shermer,
editor of Skeptic magazine, for ferreting out the truth, and I
join him in apologizing for being so easily duped.
On Monday, the National Academy of Sciences released a two-year
study, "Earth Science and Applications from Space: National
Imperatives for the Next Decade." We can count polar bears,
stick thermometers in the ocean, and measure the hair on wooly
caterpillars, but the only way to find out what's going on with
global warming is to study Earth from space. The Academy report
finds that NASA's earth science budget has fallen by 30 percent,
while the number of operating Earth-observing instruments on NASA
satellites will fall by 40 percent by 2010. The funds are being
siphoned off to prepare for a manned science station on the moon.
NASA seems unable to describe just what science will be done.
The Earth's albedo, or reflectivity, is fundamental to global
climate. We don't know what it is. The only instrument capable
of measuring and continuously monitoring the albedo is the Deep
Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). Already built and paid for,
it sits in a warehouse at Goddard SFC waiting to be delivered to
the Lagrange-1 point, about a million miles in the direction of
the sun. We understand why President Bush may not like DSCOVR.
But not much has been heard from Congress or the public.
The Republican controlled Congress failed to get its work done in
the fall, making some sort of continuing resolution almost
inevitable. "Dear Colleague" letters went out this week urging
appropriators to give priority to science in a continuing
resolution, but a CR is by its nature a mindless steam roller.
Meanwhile, the President is expected to make balancing the budget
without raising taxes the main theme of his State of the Union
address next Tuesday, even as he orders a "surge" in Iraq. Look
for RIFs at DOE facilities and shortened operating time for
accelerators and light sources. RHIC may not run at all in 2007.