Friday, April 4, 2008

1. LHC: A KNIGHT ERRANT TILTS AT HIGH-ENERGY WINDMILL.

Technology has changed in the 400 years since Cervantes first told the story of Don Quixote. Windmills are now particle accelerators and the knight's lance is a federal court injunction, but the plot is the same. It begins with a befuddled lawyer in Hawaii named Walter Wagner. Having read far too much science fiction as a youth, Wagner fantasizes that he is a physicist by virtue of an undergraduate biology degree with a minor in physics. Accompanied by Sancho, his loyal TA, Wagner embarks on an adventure to slay the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a doomsday machine that he believes is posed to destroy the world by creating a black hole. He seems to have forgotten the last time he tried this. In 1999 Wagner warned that RHIC, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory, must be slain lest it create a black hole (WN 23 Jul 99) . The then BNL director, Jack Marburger, named a distinguished panel of physicists to investigate. Their report noted that nature has been conducting the relevant safety test for billions of years by colliding heavy-ion cosmic rays with the moon. It concluded that creation of a black hole is "effectively ruled out by the persistence of the Moon."

2. VOODOO MEDICINE: TREATING ACUPUNCTURE ADDICTION.

A couple of weeks ago the Metro Section the Washington Post ran a front page story about a pilot program in a Washington suburb to incorporate acupuncture into the treatment of drug addiction. There is something called the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association that certifies people to administer acupuncture for drug addiction. As I read this I paused to watch a chiropractor on Good Morning America wrenching some poor women's neck to lower her blood pressure. It raised mine. But back to acupuncture: this morning I was sent a notice from the University of Maryland Health Center about it's acupuncture services. "Originating in China about 5,000 years ago," it began, "acupuncture is the oldest continuously practiced medical system in the world." You might prefer something a little more up-to-date. If my health is involved I want to know what was learned yesterday. It goes on to explain that acupuncture is based on the circulation of qi, "the life-giving energy that circulates along channels to all organs and enables them to function." My own university put this out? There is no qi. Its superstitious nonsense. After you stop laughing, check out the health service at your institution. The American health system has completely sold out to this crap. America's addiction to acupuncture began with New York Times correspondent James Reston's 1971 trip to China, during which he was operated on for acute appendicitis. Contrary to widespread accounts, he was injected with a standard local anesthetic, not acupuncture. It was two days later that he experienced indigestion with only a traditional Chinese physician on duty. He was treated with moxibustion, a form of acupuncture, and needles were used to "get the qi flowing." An Alka-Seltzer might have been better. Reston's own words can be found on the web.

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.