Friday, September 19, 2008

1. SCILENCE: THE "GATHERING STORM" IS NOW RAGING.

Norm Augustine wrote a powerful editorial in yesterday's issue of Science. Retired as CEO of Lockheed, Augustine chaired the NAS committee that 3 years ago issued the Gathering Storm, a report that called for doubling the investment in math, physical sciences and engineering. However, funds to implement the Gathering Storm recommendations were lost in an orgy of congressional earmarking of projects for local districts. Where, Augustine asks, were the voices of those who understood the consequences? More than half the increase in the U.S. gross domestic product is attributable to advances in science and technology. It is ironic that his editorial appeared even as the U.S. economy is teetering on the edge of total collapse.

2. PANIC: "ALL WE HAVE TO FEAR" IS FOUR MORE MONTHS.

As we prepare to spend a trillion dollars we don't have to bail out his administration, George W. Bush emerged from isolation yesterday to offer his version of Franklin Roosevelt's famous 1933 speech to the nation in the depths of the great depression: "The American people are concerned about the situation in our financial markets and our economy," Bush lamented. "And I share their concerns." Feel better now?

3. DEBATE: WOULD YOU SETTLE FOR A POP QUIZ?

Unable to arrange a face-to-face debate between Obama and McCain on science issues, the dedicated team at Science Debate 2008 asked for written responses to 14 questions. The 35 pages of staff-written responses they got back served only to make it clear why a face-to-face debate was needed it would have had a time limit. I would wager the candidates didn't even have time to read their responses. Maybe it should have been multiple-choice questions, or even true-false. We thank the organizers for seeing it through, but the answers didn't "restore science and innovation to America's political dialogue" as we all had hoped.

4. LARGE HADRON COLLIDER: IS IT TIME FOR AN UPGRADE?

The LHC was shut down briefly this week by an electrical problem in a cooling system. It should be back up today. The minor problem in this enormously complex system only served to emphasize how smoothly the turn- on has gone. Meanwhile, planning for the International Linear Collider, consisting of two 30 kilometer linear colliders facing each other, has been put on hold. The decision to build the ILC will depend on what is learned by the LHC. However, that hasn't stopped planning for the Super LHC, an upgrade to increase not the energy but the luminosity.

5. EMF: ARE POWER LINES CAUSING CANCER AGAIN?

It began in 1989 with scare stories in the New Yorker attributing childhood cancers to power-line fields. With a change in acronym from EMF to NIR (Non-Ionizing Radiation) power-line fear has returned to close kindergartens in Petah Tivia, Israel, and bury power lines in New South Wales, but as before it is a mistake. All known cancer agents break chemical bonds, which non-ionizing radiation cannot, thus creating mutant strands of DNA.

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.