Friday, 20 December 96 Washington, DC
1. DIGITAL AGENDA: *PROPOSED DATABASE TREATY HAS BEEN DROPPED*
The Geneva conference (WN 6 Dec 96) ends today, without the controversial treaty even
being considered. It could come up again at the World Intellectual Property Organization
meeting in Manila in April, but most observers doubt that it will. Even the chief U.S. negotiator,
Bruce Lehman, has reportedly admitted in private that it was a "colossal mistake" to try to
ram the treaty through without consultation. The wheels began coming off when the research community was alerted to what was happening by an NRC panel led by Steve Berry of
the U. of Chicago (WN 22 Nov 96).
2. NASA: A TUESDAY PRESS RELEASE CITED TOP ACHIEVEMENTS OF 1996.
-- the discovery of possible fossils on a Mars meteorite, Galileo's stunning exploration of
Jupiter and its moons, the launch of two probes to Mars, the dazzling new discoveries
by the Hubble Space Telescope, etc. Later in the day, parts of Challenger washed up
on a Florida beach and the media used not a word of the release. Ironically, NASA's
only mention of human space flight (half of the budget!) was the space endurance
record set by Shannon Lucid after her return from Mir was delayed by Shuttle problems.
3. MARS: GETTING THERE IS EASY -- GETTING THERE ALIVE IS NOT.
Until now, concern has focused on the short-term lethal
effects of radiation from solar flares. The favored solution is a storm shelter -- a lead-lined
coffin you jump into till it blows over. But an NRC study released this week also looks at the long-term exposure to cosmic radiation. It estimates that during a round-trip to Mars, the
nucleus of every cell in the body would be traversed by a primary high-Z,
high-energy particle. Nobody is certain about what that would do, but it's not likely to be good for you. Research on the space station won't help at all, since the station will be
shielded by Earth's magnetosphere. Mars has no magnetosphere--which
should end any talk about Mars colonies.
4. JUNK SCIENCE: UPLIFTING RULING ON BREAST IMPLANT EVIDENCE.
In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled in Daubert vs. Dow Pharmaceuticals that evidence must be
based on "scientifically valid principles." How judges enforce Daubert is closely watched (WN 26 May 95). In Oregon this week, a Federal judge, relying on advice from a panel of
distinguished scientists, barred junk science opinions. Among the junk scientists
singled out by the judge was Eric Gershwin of UC Davis: "Dr. Gershwin has made too
great a leap of faith from the underlying data to his conclusions." Last year, Gershwin
was awarded a $1M grant by the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine.
CARL SAGAN 1934-1996.
We have lost an intellectual friend./ To love ideas, with passion,/ means you can afford to be wrong/ now and then, because a passion for ideas/ is not a bad compass. (Conrad Royksund, scientist-poet, Luther College, Decorah, IA).