Friday, September 19, 2008
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.