Friday, 6 Jan 95 Washington, DC
1. HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE TAKES A 20-YEAR LOOK INTO THE FUTURE!
In the first major committee hearing of the 104th Congress, heads
of agencies and cabinet members were asked what they are doing
now to prepare the nation for 2015. But a bigger insight was
into the thinking of Committee members; questions from freshman
members revealed an astonishingly parochial focus. A freshman
whose district includes the Johnson Space Flight Center -- where
his wife works -- was worried about cutbacks in NASA; "that's why
I'm here," he said. Another wanted to know if NASA could cancel
plans to close a wind tunnel in his district. Among all the new
members of Congress, the focus was on jobs and money -- NOW! The
more seasoned members worried more globally; George Brown (D-CA)
questioned whether the goal of world leadership in science can be
sustained in a zero-sum game. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) accused the
witnesses of "paying lip service to basic research....20 years in
the future, that's a big problem." He denounced the "strategic
research" requirements imposed on NSF by Senate Appropriations
subcommittee language on "The Future of NSF"
(WN 17 Sep 93).
2. THE FUTURE OF SPACE SCIENCE: REVIEW TAKES ON NEW SIGNIFICANCE!
When the Senate VA/HUD/IA Appropriations Subcommittee provided a
million bucks for the National Academy of Sciences "to undertake
a comprehensive and independent review of the role and position
of space science in NASA," it did not hesitate to spell out to
the "independent" reviewers what they were expected to recommend:
"The Committee believes the time has come to seriously consider
creation of an Institute for Space Science within NASA to oversee
all space science activities....Such an institute could function
just as NIH now does." The Subcommittee chair, you may recall,
also pressured NSF to adopt the NIH model as a way of ensuring a
focus on "strategic
goals" (WN 4 Feb 94). So when the Future of
Space Science Steering Group held its initial meeting this week,
the first item listed on the agenda was "Discussions with Kevin
Kelly." Kelly, the Appropriations Subcommittee's majority Clerk,
had crafted the language calling for the review. But Kelly sent
his regrets; with Republicans in control, he is reported to be
leaving the subcommittee. This apparently leaves the panel free
to consider other alternatives for the structure of NASA science.
3. EUGENE WIGNER, A GIANT OF 20TH CENTURY PHYSICS, IS DEAD AT 92.
Wigner, together with fellow Hungarian expatriate Leo Szilard,
persuaded Albert Einstein to write the famous letter to President
Roosevelt that resulted in the Manhattan Project. He was present
three years later when Enrico Fermi initiated the first sustained
nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago. But his fame as a
physicist was assured in his twenties by his application of group
theory to atomic spectra; he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1963.
Wigner emigrated to the U.S. in 1930 and was appointed a lecturer
at Princeton, where he remained until his retirement in 1971.
THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY (Note: Opinions are the author's
and are not necessarily shared by the APS, but they should be.)