Friday, November 19, 2010
Last week in describing the search for extraterrestrial life I recounted
the celebration in the Eagle pub of the discovery of the structure of DNA,
as told by James Watson in The Double Helix. I got a couple of lines in
response from Raynor Smith that put it in perspective. I posted it above my
desk and now share with you: "These great men did indeed discover the
secret of life. The secret is to gather with friends in a warm pub, and
raise your glass to celebrate your accomplishments, and likewise those of
your friends, whether large and earthshaking or small and humble."
Here's the picture: It's been 20 years since the Cold War ended, but
thousands of thermonuclear warheads, still reside in Russia and the US
under conditions of questionable security. How many megatons does it take
to counter the threat from Iran and North Korea? Meanwhile, armies of
religious fanatics dream of the glory of being the first nuclear suicide
bomber. It would seem to be a sensible plan to reduce the number of these
things, but the Republicans seem to be in no hurry to ratify the agreement.
There is always danger in delaying international agreements; windows have a
way of closing in response to unrelated incidents. We knew Jesse Helms
(Senator No) was dangerous; he enjoyed blocking progress. Jesse went to his
reward seven years ago. Now we are finding that the Republicans are all
crazy. Their sole objective seems to be blocking Obama.
The suffix added to the word climate is intended to draw comparison to the
Watergate break-in, but the comparison is spurious. In all of the public
scrutiny, no one seemed interested in finding the perpetrators of the only
criminal offense in the entire affair: hacking into private files. Anyone
who uses a computer should know by now that nothing in the cyber world is
truly private. That shouldn't disturb scientists, openness is our culture.
Government should try it sometime.
When they were building the Large Hadron Collider it seemed to be all about
finding the Higgs boson. But there seems to be increasing interest in
using the LHC to to learn something about the 85% of the universe we can't
see. We know it's there because it has gravity, but that's about all it
has. The betting is that it's a particle, and the leading candidate is the
WIMP (weakly interacting massive particle). Gianfranco Bertone in
yesterday's issue of Nature predicts that if there is such a ghostly
particle it will be exposed by LHC in the next few years.