Friday, 26 February 1988
CHILLING NEWS FOR HIGH-TEMPERATURE SUPERCONDUCTIVITY
from the White House this week when the President forwarded the
"Superconductivity Competitiveness Act of 1988" to Congress. As
expected (WN 9 Oct 87),
the proposal has three main objectives: Amend the
National Cooperative Research Act to permit some types of joint production
ventures; Amend the patent laws to increase protection for manufacturing
process patents; and Amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to withhold commercially valuable scientific and technical information generated
in government laboratories. Although an FOIA exemption was expected
to be part of the bill,
the actual wording stunned even the most hardened veterans of the
battle to keep scientific communication open. It does not merely
permit information to be withheld. The bill REQUIRES agencies to
withhold information if release could "reasonably be foreseen" to
harm US competitiveness. Imagine what a GS-12 would do with
that! Scientists are not in the habit of using FOIA requests in
literature searches anyway. The real effect of the bill is to
force laboratories to review every result for commercial
relevance before releasing it. In a field that is approaching
escape velocity, government labs could be left on the launch pad.
. THE NEW NATIONAL SPACE POLICY ALSO GOES AFTER FOIA.
President's recently released policy calls for Congress to extend
to NASA the authority to withhold information from disclosure
under FOIA requests if it pertains to technologies that are
banned from export to proscribed countries. Congress granted
similar authority to the Department of Defense in 1985.
3. WILLIAM GRAHAM WAS ASKED ABOUT SUPERCONDUCTIVITY RESEARCH
during posture hearings before the House Science, Space and
Technology Committee earlier this week. Rep. Ritter (R-PA)
mentioned a recent article in the New York times by Philip
Anderson, a Princeton Nobel Laureate, which pointed out that NSF
has cut the grants of everyone working on superconductors. Graham
quipped that the article would not have survived peer review.
Even as he testified, however, a letter echoing Anderson's
concerns was reverberating around Capitol Hill. It carried the
signatures of 56 leading US researchers in superconductivity --
every American participant at a recent conference at the Aspen
Center. Thus establishing once again that the President's Science
Advisor is dangerously isolated from the scientific community.
4. 600 PAPERS ON HIGH-Tc SUPERCONDUCTORS ARE SCHEDULED FOR THE
MARCH MEETING OF THE APS IN NEW ORLEANS.
Of the 600, 90 involve
foreign participation from a total of 22 countries. Researchers
at 26 US universities and colleges, 5 government laboratories and
5 industrial laboratories collaborated with foreign colleagues in
the research that will be presented at the meeting.