Friday, 1 November 96 Washington, DC
1. POWER-LINES: THERE ARE NO HEALTH EFFECTS -- AND THAT'S THAT!
The corpse can be expected to twitch from time to time, but the 17-year controversy over residential electromagnetic fields has been pronounced dead. An expert panel convened by the National
Academy of Sciences concluded that "the current body of evidence does not show that exposure to these fields presents a human health hazard." The APS reached the same conclusion
18 months ago (WN 5 May 95).
The Academy study found "no conclusive and consistent evidence that exposures to residential electric
and magnetic fields produce cancer, adverse neurobehavioral effects, or reproductive and developmental effects." The 3-year study was funded by DOE, which had been designated by Congress as the lead
agency for EMF research. In compliance with the "Full Employment of Scientists Act," the panel
issued the obligatory call for more research--but not into EMF. There must be other factors that produce a tiny excess of childhood leukemia near power lines. At a press conference yesterday, a reporter
asked whether the panel recommended "prudent avoidance." The chair, Charles Stevens, a
neurobiologist, replied that "we wouldn't know what to suggest people avoid." Since the proximity
to power lines is greatest in congested, low-income areas, it would be best to avoid poverty.
2. MARS: BRITISH TEAM REPORTS NEW EVIDENCE OF PRIMITIVE LIFE.
And the British are talking about relatively recent life, maybe only 600,000 years ago, which is
long after we began walking upright. The controversial "fossils" reported by the American team
are some 3.5 billion years old, long before life on Earth had even discovered sex. The British
results were also based on a Mars rock, but relied on chemical and isotopic analysis.
3. SCIENCE TRAGEDY I: GRADUATE STUDENT IN GENETICS COMMITS FRAUD.
Just four months after a federal panel threw out all charges of misconduct against Thereza
Imanishi-Kari (WN 5 Jul 96), research
fraud is back in the headlines--but this time it looks like the real thing. A University of Michigan
graduate student admits fabricating results on the role of a defective gene in leukemia. Some of
the research was done at NIH with the head of the human genome project, Francis Collins, who
uncovered the fabrication.
4. SCIENCE TRAGEDY II: CHELYABINSK-70 DIRECTOR COMMITS SUICIDE.
The suicide of Vladimir Nechai, a nuclear weapons designer who headed "the Soviet Los Alamos," is
being portrayed as a symbol of the decline of Russian science. Workers at Chelyabinsk have not
been paid since July. But a prominent Russian physicist, now in the United States, sees a parallel
with the suicide, several years ago, of the head of the company that was prime contractor for production
of the SS-20. He suggests that their suicides may have had less to do with the collapse of the Russian
economy than with the collapse of the values on which they built their lives.