Friday, Febuary 12, 2010

1. MENTAL VACUUM: MANY READERS STRAIGHTENED ME OUT..

It's not the things I forget that worry me so much as the things I remember perfectly that never happened. So it was last week when I commented in passing that Apollo 11 relied on vacuum-tube electronics; of course, it did not. I am unable to explain my lapse. My thanks to those who straightened me out.

2. FOOD: THE BOAT IS SINKING FASTER THAN WE ARE BAILING.

A Special Section of Science magazine this week is devoted to the problem of feeding "an expected population of 9 billion in 2050." Expected by whom? In the last 40 years the population has doubled. If it doubles again in the next 40 the population would be closer to 14 billion. In the entire issue of Science I did not see a single mention of population control. In 1798, the Rev. Robert Thomas Malthus, British scholar and clergyman, observed that animals typically produce far more offspring than are required for replacement. This helps to ensure survival of the species, as Darwin noted 50 years later citing Malthus. To avoid excessive population, Malthus urged "restraint," but the reproductive instinct is far more powerful than Malthusian logic. I cannot do better than to once again quote Norman Borlaug's acceptance speech on the occasion of winning the 1970 Nob Peace Prize for the Green Revolution. It bears repeating: "We are dealing with two opposing forces, the scientific power of food production and the biologic power of human reproduction. Man has made amazing progress recently in his potential mastery of these two contending powers...there can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort." This, it is clear from the Special Section, has not yet happened.

3. PRAYER: CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT REJECTS SUPERSTITION.

Bruce Flamm, obstratician and skeptic, fought a millionaire fertility/prayer clinic operator through the California court system and won. The case involved the notorious "Columbia prayer study," in which it was claimed that prayer increased the success rate of fertility treatments. Flamm demanded the study be withdrawn. Qwang Cha, the millionaire clinic operator, lost at every level but kept appealing the judgment in the belief that Flamm must inevitably fold. Bruce Flamm doesn't fold. Last we the California Supreme Court refused to consider the Appeals Court decision against Cha.

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.