Friday, 4 March 1988
"SIGNIFICANT REDUCTIONS IN 1988 SUPPORT FOR EXISTING GRANTS"
in the Division of Materials Research were admitted by NSF today
in a statement issued by the Assistant Director for Mathematical
and Physical Sciences (see
WN 29 Jan 88 and 12 Feb 88). The cuts
were defended as "the only way funds can be made available for
new awards this year." Overly optimistic budget expectations
were cited as the source of the problem. "Nevertheless, this
situation should never have been allowed to develop. The
Foundation is taking steps to improve management procedures."
The mea culpa came as NSF was being bombarded by complaints
from researchers and inquires from Capitol Hill. Unfortunately,
the statement fails to give any indication of the boundaries of
the problem. It implies that it is confined to "a few programs
in the Division of Materials Research," whereas we have been
unable to identify any programs in DMR that were not affected.
This includes elimination of yet another Materials Research
Laboratory and substantial cuts in funding for the remaining 8.
Moreover, although less systematic, cuts are by no means confined
to DMR. Observatories supported by NSF, for example, are laying
off 10% of their staff. Congressional interest was sparked by
reports that essentially all grants in superconductivity are
affected. Superconductivity has come to be viewed as a test of
America's determination to compete in a world economy, and the
President personally mandated increased support. NSF points out
that in terms of total dollars, superconductivity support is up,
since many grantees have switched fields. Erich Bloch, however,
told a group yesterday that he is "getting a lot of hate mail.".
. SDIO IS NO LONGER INTERESTED IN THE X-RAY LASER
component of Star Wars, according to a spokesman quoted in the
San Jose Mercury News. Lawrence Livermore officials acknowledge
it would require at least another 5 years and $1B to determine
whether such a weapon is possible. Just prior to the Rekjavik
summit, Edward Teller described the x-ray laser to Administration
officials as ready to enter "the engineering phase." The GAO,
which is investigating the matter (WN 25 Dec 87), briefed Rep.
George Brown last week. The briefing was classified, and Brown
would only say that letters and briefings to Administration
officials by Teller and Lowell Wood "were misleading,
particularly to individuals without a technical background."
3. THE USE OF LIE DETECTORS BY PRIVATE EMPLOYERS IS BARRED
in most situations by a Senate bill that easily passed yesterday. A
similar bill had already passed the House. The bill gives
protection to private employees that is not enjoyed by government
workers. The polygraph ranks right up with laetrile and Newman's
energy machine among technical frauds. Controlled tests show a
false positive rate of 50%! It detects excitement rather than
falsehood, and hence cannot tell a lie from the sex act.