Friday, 7 November 97 Washington, DC
1. TREMOR: PANEL FINDS FAULT WITH CIA NUCLEAR TEST ALLEGATION.
A panel of four independent experts, including former APS President
Sid Drell of Stanford, advised CIA Director George Tenet that the
16 Aug seismic event almost certainly was not caused by a nuclear
explosion (WN 24 Oct 97).
The event, whatever it was, took place
in the Kara Sea and was not linked to the Novaya Zemlya test
site. But even as the CIA and White House officially backed down,
opponents of CTBT still played up the event as a great mystery.
2. CRISIS: U.S. SUPREME COURT REJECTS NATIONAL ACADEMY PLEA.
The justices let stand an appeals court ruling that Academy panels
must abide by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (WN
9 May 97).
William Colglazier, NAS executive officer, described the court's
action as the most serious crisis the exclusive club has faced,
and NAS president Bruce Alberts warned that the likely outcome is
that the Academy will conduct far fewer studies. The only hope
now is that Congress will declare NAS to be exempt from the law.
But with Congress panting to leave town this week, it's unlikely
to happen this session. Meanwhile, NAS faces a cash flow problem.
3. TWITCH: SUPREME COURT EXAMINES THE MERITS OF LIE DETECTORS.
The case involves an airman who flunked urinalysis but passed the
polygraph. You may recall the case of CIA double agent Aldrich
Ames who took scores of polygraph exams over the years and never
flunked once (WN 25 Feb 94).
The Air Force lawyer representing
the airman asked the court rhetorically, "If these polygraphs are
so unreliable, why are millions of taxpayer dollars being spent
on them?" Good question. The answer was given by Richard Nixon
when he ordered the entire White House staff to be tested: "I
don't care whether they work, they scare the hell out of people."
4. PRICK: NIH PANEL ENDORSES ACUPUNCTURE THERAPY.
three-day invited conference in which not one paper questioning
the efficacy of acupuncture was presented, a consensus panel
concluded that: 1) research on acupuncture is of poor quality;
2)no one knows how acupuncture works; and 3) acupuncture is an
effective treatment for certain kinds of pain and nausea. As the
report explains: "...the definition and characterization of the
acupuncture points remains controversial. Even more elusive is
the scientific basis of some of the key Eastern medical concepts
such as the circulation of Qi, the meridian system, and the five-phases theory, which are difficult to reconcile with contemporary
biomedical information but continue to play an important role in
the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in
acupuncture." Translation: "Sham" acupuncture--sticking needles
in the "wrong" places--works about as well as sticking them in
the "right" places. When panelists criticized the Western medical
practice of relying on randomized, controlled clinical trials,
the audience burst into applause. Science was on holiday.