Friday, 19 December 97 Washington, DC
1. NATIONAL SCIENCE MEDAL: WHO WROTE THE PRESIDENT'S SPEECH? `
Unfortunately, the White House scheduled the event to coincide
with the big news about the First Dog. In case you missed it,
recipients of this year's science medal included three Fellows of
the American Physical Society: Darlene Hoffman, a professor of
chemistry at Berkeley, for her work on trans-uranium elements;
Harold Johnston, emeritus chemistry professor at Berkeley, for
contributions to atmospheric chemistry; and Marshall Rosenbluth,
a plasma theorist at UCSD, for fusion research. The medal was
awarded posthumously to Martin Schwarzchild of Princeton for
fathering stellar evolution. In presenting the medals, President
Clinton claimed to have increased our investment in science and
technology "for five years in a row while bringing down the
deficit, often in the face of opposition." What opposition?
Congress consistently increased the President's science request.
The draft science request for FY 99 is once again flat or down.
2. NATIONAL TECHNOLOGY MEDAL: PRESIDENT UNVEILS BOLD INITIATIVE.
Recipients included Norman Augustine, Chairman & CEO of Lockheed
Martin, reputed to be the front-runner to replace John Gibbons as
science advisor. Does this portend an even greater emphasis on
federal involvement in technology development? In his speech,
the President proudly announced $96M in new research investment:
$14M for a DOD program to develop a supercomputer-on-a-chip, and
$83M to the NIST Advanced Technology Program to promote clean
energy sources, low-cost drug manufacturing and electronic ID
cards to find lost children. I suppose that could be expanded to
include lost dogs. Is this what our S&T policy has come to?
3. JUNK SCIENCE: SUPREME COURT EXPANDS THE "GATEKEEPER" ROLE.
In its landmark 1993 "Daubert" decision, the Court instructed
federal judges to serve as "gatekeepers," ensuring that evidence
is based on "scientifically valid principles." On Monday, the
Court unanimously ruled that the trial judge must also decide
whether conclusions drawn from the evidence make sense. The case
involved a worker who smoked heavily, but claimed his lung cancer
was caused by minute exposure to PCBs. Evidence presented by his
"experts" consisted of infant mice that had massive doses of PCBs
injected directly into their stomachs -- and developed unrelated
cancers. In an important concurring opinion, Justice Breyer,
noting that "judges are not scientists," encouraged trial judges
to appoint independent experts to serve on behalf of the court.
4. SPACE JUNK: NRC PANEL WARNS OF GROWING RISK.
As NASA boldly
goes where junk from hundreds of past missions still orbits, it
should add more shielding, according to a new report. Speaking
of junk, I found a change on NASA's space-station home page: The
count-down clock that once read seconds to a November 97 launch
has been replaced by a box that says "192 days to launch."