Friday, 19 March 93 Washington, DC
1. IT MAY BE DIFFICULT TO SEE CLEARLY FROM INSIDE THE PORK BARREL
A letter arrived this week from the director of a project WHAT'S
NEW had cited as a particularly dumb example of "academic pork."
The writer accused WN of inconsistency for not identifying the
Supercollider as an example of "Presidential pork barrelling."
His confusion is profound, but not unique--Newsweek called the
SSC a "quark barrel" project. You don't have to like the SSC to
understand that it's not pork. Academic pork barrelling refers to
the practice of earmarking funds for projects that have not had
the benefit of impartial merit review. Never before has a science
project been so reviewed as the SSC. In addition to the usual DOE
advisory panels, DOE convened the Drell panel in 1990, followed
by the Sculli report the same year and the Townes Task Force a
year later. Nobody can count the Congressional hearings that
have been devoted to the SSC; it has been debated for hours in
Committee and on the floor of the House and Senate; every wart
has been exposed in public--and it faces this gauntlet again each
year. By contrast, nearly a billion dollars a year are spent on
academic research projects that NO ONE has ever reviewed.
2. NO INCREASE IN BRAIN CANCER DETECTED AMONG ELECTRICAL WORKERS!
Reports of an association between "electrical occupations" and an
increased risk of brain cancer and leukemia have been cited as
evidence that 60Hz magnetic fields can induce cancer. Above-
normal exposures to fields was inferred from job titles on death
certificates, such as "electrician." But in a new study of 36,000
electric utility workers at Southern California Edison, research-
ers sought to refine the occupational link by actually measuring
the exposure of workers in different jobs. Improved assessment
of exposure should give a stronger association--if exposure is a
risk factor. To the surprise of the researchers, the association
went away. Will this end the debate? Of course not. Critics
argue that power company scientists were involved in the study.
3. GOLDIN IS GIVEN AUTHORITY TO REORGANIZE AND MAKE APPOINTMENTS
at NASA. With Sally Ride remaining obdurate in her refusal to
take the job of NASA Administrator, the White House has liberated
Bush appointee Daniel Goldin to go forward with the space station
redesign and make organizational changes as well. Last week he
announced creation of a new Office of Space Sciences, headed by
Wesley Huntress; it will include Solar System Exploration, Space
Physics and Astrophysics. Microgravity Material Sciences will be
under a new Office of Life and Material Sciences. Meanwhile,
Rep. George Brown (D-CA) is urging Goldin to salvage as much as
possible of the existing space station design. Brown's concern
is our international partners, but the European Space Agency has
just announced a 5% cut of its own in the Columbus space module.