Friday, April 18, 2008
The "Compassion Forum" on Sunday night at Messiah College was not exactly
the debate scientists had hoped for. It wasn't a debate at all; Hillary
Clinton and Barack Obama were interviewed separately. Jon Meacham of
Newsweek asked Senator Clinton straight out, "do you personally believe
life begins at conception?" "I believe the potential for life begins at
conception," she began. Would she now try to explain to this Christian-
conservative audience why a single cell is not just a very small person?
Not a chance; she wandered off into a discussion of her Methodist roots.
It would be up to Senator Obama. Campbell Brown of CNN, Meacham's co-
host, asked Obama what he would say to one of his daughters if she asked
him if God really created the universe in six days. Glory! It was the
opening scientists pray for, a chance for an audacious young man to tell
the story of creation to the entire nation. "No dear, the story of the
beginning of the universe is far grander than that. It is 14 billion
years old and still changing. Science has learned much, but there is far
more still to be learned . . ." Of course he did not say that. He
said, "Six days in the bible may not be 24-hour days." Sigh! They
debated again on Wednesday - nothing to report.
Vioxx was a top selling painkiller until Merck took it off the market in
2004 after evidence linked it to heart attacks. Merck reached a $4.85
billion settlement of thousands of Vioxx lawsuits, but, according to a
story by Stephanie Saul in Wednesday's New York Times, documents released
in those cases reveal a practice of promoting Vioox by recruiting doctors
to sign drug studies actually ghost written by Merck.
John Wheeler, who died Sunday at 96, loved science. He was much more than
the man who coined the term "black hole." There will be many lengthy
obituaries to this man but I remember him best for his battles with
parapsychologist J.B. Rhine and for his attempt to have the Parapsychology
Association expelled from the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, a fight he lost. Forced by a lawsuit to issue a public apology
to Rhine, he told me it was the most difficult thing he had ever done. We
are better because he was among us.
A meteorologist, Lorenz died Wednesday at 90. He found that seemingly
insignificant differences in initial conditions can lead to wildly
divergent outcomes of complex systems far down the road. At a AAAS
meeting in 1972, the title of his talk asked "Does the Flap of a
Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas." Alas, the
frequency of storms cannot be reduced by killing butterflies.