Friday, 9 August 96 Washington, DC
1. MARS: PRESIDENT DECLARES SEARCH FOR LIFE TO BE A MAJOR GOAL!
Dan Goldin's final words at the NASA news conference Wednesday were:
"We will do whatever we have to do [to validate the claim] but we
will be driven solely by scientific considerations."
Not everyone seemed to understand the full significance of Goldin's
statement. Taxpayers for Common Sense, for example, warned the
public to "Calm down and watch your wallet." In fact, the Mars
priority has the potential to save the taxpayers billions.
The primary scientific consideration is to avoid contaminating
Mars with Earth organisms. As one prominent biologist put it,
"NASA must either figure out a way to autoclave astronauts, or
explore Mars with robots." Robotic exploration is at least ten
times cheaper than doing it with people. Moreover, robotic
exploration eliminates the rationale for building a $90B space station.
2. BOOK REVIEW: "THE END OF SCIENCE" BY JOHN HORGAN. COULD IT BE?
It hardly seems like the "twilight of the scientific age," but Horgan
keeps score by discoveries that force us to rethink how the universe
works, such as the Copernican system, or Darwinian evolution, or
quantum mechanics. Life on Mars might do. Sooner or later it will
stop, he argues, perhaps when we figure it all out,
or we hit the limits of human intellectual capacity, or more likely
when the cost of going further is more than society is willing to bear.
As evidence that the end is near he points to current theories,
such as superstrings, that are unlikely ever to be validated.
His approach is to collect the views of Earth's crankiest, most
opinionated scientists. He ends with the feel-good silliness of
Frank Tipler, who derived the existence of God
(WN 7 Oct 94). Tipler is a metaphor.
This, Horgan seems to be saying, is where science is headed.
Without empiricism to keep score, one theory is as good as another.
Has science manned the battlements against the postmodern heresy
that there is no objective truth, only to find postmodernism inside
3. SCIENCE JOURNALISM: AP STORY WINS PRIZE FOR THE WORST ANALOGY
The dateline was Salt Lake City, but that's not what made Ray Jones's
invention sound wacky. It was the description: "Similar in spirit to
dowsing rods used to search for water." You had to read almost to the
end of the 30 column-inch story to discover that the "radiological
surveyor" is not another "Quadro Tracker"
(WN 26 Jan 96). As bones fossilize they
concentrate any uranium from the surrounding soil. Jones showed that
a lead collimator attached to a sensitive gamma detector screens out
enough of the background radiation to scan for dinosaur bones
near the surface.
4. IMPROVING SCIENCE JOURNALISM: 1997 APS MASS MEDIA FELLOWSHIPS.
Students with a physics degree can apply for two ten-week summer
fellowships to work as reporters, researchers or production assistants
in media organizations nationwide.