Friday, 4 June 93 Washington, DC
1. AFTER NINE-YEAR ABSENCE, U.S. SEEMS READY TO RETURN TO UNESCO.
In 1984, citing gross mismanagement, the U.S. withdrew from the
organization it had helped to found 39 years earlier (WN 21 Dec
84). No one questioned the need for reform, but withdrawal was a
serious matter. Physicists were particularly concerned about the
Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, created through
UNESCO. The Reagan Administration gave its assurances that funds
that had gone to UNESCO would be directed to other international
science and education programs, but reneged (WN 1 Mar 85). Reform
began in 1987 when Federico Mayor, a distinguished scientist, was
named Director-General, but the Administration had no interest in
rejoining. The climate has changed. The State Department convened
a meeting of educational and scientific societies this week to
collect testimonials to the value of UNESCO. In April, the APS
Council reaffirmed a 1989 resolution urging the U.S. to rejoin.
2. AFTER NINE-MONTH ABSTINENCE, U.S. SEEMS READY TO RESUME TESTS.
The Hatfield Amendment to the FY 93 Energy Appropriations Bill
(Public Law 102-377) suspended nuclear weapons tests until the
first of next month. There can be no more than 15 tests over the
next three years, and these are to be limited to development of
safer weapons. All testing must end by 30 Sept 96, provided no
other nation tests in the meantime. Moreover, before any tests
can be conducted, the law requires the President to submit a plan
for achieving a multilateral comprehensive test ban agreement by
the 1996 cut-off. The current moratorium has not been violated,
and the President must now decide whether the 15 tests the law
allows are worth the damage to non-proliferation. A more serious
question is what Clinton plans to do after 1996. He is said to
be considering a treaty that would limit tests to less than 1
kiloton, rather than a total ban. That would violate the clear
intent of Congress, according to a letter signed by 23 Senators.
3. HURRY! MAKE USE OF THE "COPERNICAN PRINCIPLE" WHILE IT LASTS.
An article in Nature can be ignored, but when it gets into the
Science Times section of the New York Times, it has to be taken
seriously. Right? Well, this week we learn that things have a
95% likelihood of being in the middle 95% of their lifetime. You
aren't impressed, but stay with me. A Princeton astrophysicist
points out that this simple fact allows you to derive limits for
the longevity of just about anything--at the 95% confidence
level. It's all because we are likely to be in a "nonspecial
place." That's the Copernican principle. The author applies his
powerful statistical concept to our specie--he's 95% sure we have
0.2 to 8 million years left. He can even derive the probability
that humans will get around to building a "Dyson sphere"--it
doesn't look good. (If you don't know what a Dyson sphere is, you
aren't ready for this stuff.) Nature published the paper on 27
May 93, just 8 days ago; at the 95% confidence level, we predict
that this theory will die between 8pm tonight and 20 April 1994.