Friday, 27 September 96 Washington, DC
1. ACADEMIC PORK: LAME DUCKS MAKE PIGS OF THEMSELVES IN DOE BILL.
All this talk about balanced budgets has done little to curb the
congressional appetite for pork. As we reported last week
(WN 20 Sep 96),
the Energy and Water Bill provided most of the energy research funds
requested by the President. Alas, the report that accompanied the
bill earmarks $30M of that money for pet projects of three powerful
members of the conference committee that wrote the report. What is
unusual is that all three are retiring at the end of this session:
Sen. Johnston (D-LA), ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, gave his
$10M to the Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana for environmental
research; Rep. Tom Bevill (D-LA), ranking minority on the House
subcommittee, sent his $10M to the Univ. of Alabama for an Energy,
Minerals and Materials Research Center; while the Hog King himself,
Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR), chair of the full committee, gave yet
another $10M to tiny Oregon Health Sciences Univ. Since 1983,
Hatfield has given the private school $114.5M -- about $40,000 per
graduate. Needless to say, the projects were not subjected to the
indignity of peer review.
2. DOE: DEPARTMENT IS NOT LEGALLY OBLIGATED TO FUND EARMARKS
Report language is not legally binding, but agency heads are
notoriously reluctant to offend appropriators -- better to take the
funds from some nameless researcher. Two years ago, George Brown,
who was chair of the House Science Committee, blasted Secretary of
Energy O'Leary for caving in to appropriators (WN 12 Aug 94).
This year there is even less reason for DOE to heed the earmarkers'
wishes, since they will not be around to retaliate.
3. MISSION TO MARS? NEWSWEEK SAYS IT'S A STROLL AROUND THE PARK.
A trip to Mars, Newsweek tells us, is "even easier than a trip to the
moon." When the Viking landers found the Martian atmosphere was
mostly CO2, according to Newsweek, hardly anyone grasped the
implication: it could be used to synthesize rocket fuel! Now how
could we have overlooked that? And there's gypsum on Mars, so
astronauts could just build a cement plant and voila! a thriving
colony. All this so humans, bags of living organisms, can search for
traces of living organisms. Hmmm. In a classic of bad timing, the
issue came out just as the White House was announcing that humans
aren't going beyond low-Earth orbit (WN 20 Sep 96).
4. THE PODKLETNOV GRAVITY SHIELD: CLAIM NOT BEING TAKEN LIGHTLY.
Who needs rocket fuel? NASA is trying to duplicate the device,
which consists of a rotating superconducting disk. In 1989, two
Japanese scientists reported in PRL that a gyroscope weighs less if
its spin vector is down. After the New York Times covered it in a
story that quoted me, I was flooded with calls: most claimed to have
had the idea first, several said they had a patent on it, others
pointed out that flying saucers work that way, and one explained he
had done his research with a frisbee (WN 5 Jan 90).