Friday, June 19, 2009
Today's issue of Science has a NewsFocus article about physicist Anthony
Valentini of Imperial College London and his attempt to straighten out the
mess left by Bohr and Heisenberg 80 years ago. Valentini is co-author with
Guido Bacciagaluppi of "Quantum Theory at the Crossroads," to be published
later this year. It continues a debate that has gone unresolved. It was
put on hold because scientists were just too busy using quantum mechanics,
to worry about why it works. Measured by the incredible range of phenomena
it permits us to calculate and the technologies it has spawned, quantum
mechanics must surely be the most successful scientific theory in history.
It is, unfortunately, also wrong. Valentini's theory could spawn a
revolution in physics.
When was it that the media stopped mentioning population? We read almost
daily headlines about global warming from CO2 in the atmosphere. It's our
own fault, were told; we caused it by burning fossil fuels; we should have
been driving fuel-efficient automobiles, living closer to work, and using
nuclear and solar power generation. That's all true, but it won't help if
we just let the population grow. Name a single world problem that isn't
made worse by population growth. Biologist Paul Ehrlich shook us awake in
1968 with "The Population Bomb," but in 1980 he lost a public wager with
University of Maryland economist and libertarian Julian Simon over the
price of minerals. Ehrlich lost. Today, although population has risen to
double that in 1968, the media avoids even mentioning it. The June issue
of Scientific American, however, has "Population and Sustainability" by
Robert Engelman of Worldwatch. Everyone should read it.
Most of them are in Africa. A review of "Enough", a book by Roger Thurow
and Scott Kilman, in Sunday's Financial Times, blames the problem on
agriculture. Its clear from the numbers, however, that the real culprit
is uncontrolled growth of population, which has led to proliferation of
small, unproductive shambas.
More than a third of all Americans use some form of alternative health
remedies. This week, Associated Press reporter Marilynn Marchione has
written a series of articles on the failure of alternative remedies from
herbals to acupuncture to demonstrate any measurable efficacy in placebo-
controlled double-blind studies conducted for NIH. The possible exception
is ginger capsules to treat nausea from chemotherapy. WN strongly opposed
the creation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine at NIH when it was created in 2000, on the grounds that it would
be seen as evidence that the medical world was taking alternative and
complementary medicine seriously. It was. Nevertheless, when asked later
to serve as the lone physicist on the steering committee, I agreed. The
Problem had simply become too large to ignore. The director Stephen E.
Straus was both rigorous and fair, and although half the steering committee
members were from the alternative world, there was a consensus on most
issues. Tragically, Stephen Straus died of brain cancer in 2007. That
desperate people still fall for these sham cures is also tragic.