Friday, 24 May 96 Washington, DC
1. HELIUM: SCIENTISTS GET A COUPLE MORE WEEKS TO MAKE THEIR CASE.
The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 (H.R. 3008) was scheduled for mark-up by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday. But when Wednesday arrived, the Senate was tied up with some 40 amendments to the budget resolution, and mark-up was delayed until June 12, so if you haven't contacted your senators, there is still time. The Johnston amendment, which would allow the helium reserve to be retained if the National Academy of Sciences concludes that selling it would harm science (WN 17 May 96), appears to be gaining support, thanks to the efforts of physicists to inform their senators on the issue. But, if the Senate amends the bill, it must go back to the House, which voted 411-10 to sell off the reserve just three weeks ago (WN 3 May 96). The House will then need a crash course in Helium 101.
2. STAR WARS II: VOTE IS SCRUBBED DUE TO SEVERE "STICKER SHOCK."
Thursday's scheduled House vote on the Defend America Act of 1996 was abruptly cancelled after a Congressional Budget Office report on its "budgetary implications" was released. CBO estimated that H.R. 3144 would cost $10B over the next five years--$7B more than Republicans anticipated--and could eventually cost 12 times more than advertised. This put the bill's backers in the awkward position of attacking the CBO estimate, despite GOP insistence that only the CBO is qualified to "score" spending proposals.
3. ANTI-SCIENCE? NSF SURVEY SHOWS NO CHANGE IN PUBLIC ATTITUDE.
Leon Lederman, still trying to interest someone in a TV series that would portray scientists positively (WN 18 Aug 95), told the New York Times this week: "we're riding a tidal wave of anti-science." Most scientists feel the same way, but the new edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, issued by the National Science Board this week, includes survey results showing that 70% of public think scientific research does more good than harm-- and the figure has remained almost constant for 16 years.
4. DECONSTRUCTING GRAVITY: PHYSICIST TRANSGRESSES THE BOUNDARIES.
It may be a prestigious postmodern journal, but never before had an article in Social Text warranted comment on the front page of the New York Times--or offered so much merriment. "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" by NYU physics professor Alan Sokol was pure spoof, but editors of Social Text couldn't tell it from the usual pompous nonsense they publish. Social scientist Stanley Aronowitz, a founder of Social Text, sniffed that Sokol is "ill-read and half-educated." This apparently was not clear when they accepted his article. Publisher Stanley Fish, given an op-ed in the Times to respond to Sokol, called Sokol's article an "academic hoax" that "threatens intellectual standards." But Sokol had revealed the prank almost immediately in an article in Linqua Franca Magazine.