Friday, 12 February 1999 Washington, DC
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: DEPLOYMENT DECISION PROMISED IN JUNE 2000.
Don't count on it. In a letter to Senator John Warner (R-VA),
the head of the National Security Council, Sandy Berger, dumped
on the National Missile Defense Act (S.257) for being focused
solely on a determination that the system is "technologically
(WN 29 Jan 99).
The cost of the system, the extent of
the threat and the impact on START II and III must also be
considered. But none of that matters if the system won't work.
Alas, under the current testing schedule there is no way that
will be known in 16 months, even if a target missile is finally
intercepted. It's not enough to kill a strapped-down chicken;
any nation that can launch an ICBM can equip it with simple
countermeasures. President Clinton has promised to veto the bill
if it comes to him in its present form, but congressmen can still
tell the folks back home that they voted for missile defense.
2. ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: CONGRESS CONSULTS THE STARS FOR
A 1988 TV commercial had an actor in a white smock with
a stethoscope endorsing a health product. "I'm not a doctor," he
began, "but I play one on TV." Close enough! Rep. Dan Burton
(R-IN), chair of the House Government Reform Committee, has
scheduled a Feb 24 hearing on "Patient Access to Alternative
Medicine." The lead witness will be actress Jane Seymour, who
plays the title role in "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." According to
WN sources, subsequent hearings will feature Dr. Tom Hanks and
Dr. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dr. Tinky Winky was not available.
3. CIRCULAR A-110: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION APPLIED TO RESEARCH.
One of the stealth provisions hidden in the huge omnibus funding
bill last fall requires unpublished data obtained under Federal
research grants to be available for release under the Freedom of
(WN 15 Jan 99).
The new law is spelled out in
OMB Circular A-110. Most scientists reacted with alarm, viewing
it as a threat to academic freedom. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL),
who inserted the measure, insists the intent was to keep federal
agencies (read "EPA") from rulemaking based on unpublished junk
science (see for example
WN 21 Aug 98).
If so, the law is in
serious need of revision to define its scope more narrowly.
4. BROOKHAVEN: RICHARDSON LOOKS TO THE STARS FOR GUIDANCE.
To appease the tycoons and celebrities who have homes in the
neighboring Hamptons, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson decided
to let the group Standing for Truth Against Radiation, whose
spokesman is movie star Alec Baldwin, conduct its own safety
review of the idled High Flux Beam Reactor. Scientists who have
dealt with STAR think it's a really bad idea. The HFBR has been
shut down since 1996, when a tritium leak was discovered. The
total leak involved about one-third as much tritium as that in a
single self-illuminating exit sign
(WN 20 Jun 97).