Friday, 22 October 1999 Washington, DC
1. POLYGRAPH: SENATE CALLS ON NIH TO EXAMINE POLYGRAPH VALIDITY.
A Sense of the Senate resolution attached to the Labor, HHS
Appropriations Bill calls on NIH to investigate the validity of
the polygraph as a screening tool. A 1983 study by the Office of
Technology Assessment found little evidence to support such
applications. A letter from Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to NIH
Director Harold Varmus notes that polygraphy is based on theories
of psychophysiological phenomena that are "within the technical
expertise of the NIH." NIH is asked to initiate and support a
study by the National Academy of Sciences updating the 1983 OTA
study. Meanwhile, DOE Secretary Bill Richardson, feeling the
heat from the labs, has scaled back the testing plan from some
5,000 weapons scientists to about 1,000 people in sensitive jobs.
However, if the polygraph doesn't work, no one should be tested.
2. BUDGET: PRESIDENT SIGNS THE VA/HUD/IA APPROPRIATIONS BILL.
The final deal negotiated on a bipartisan basis between the White
House and Congress, restored the science cuts made by the House
(WN 10 Sep 99).
The NASA budget is actually increased $100M over
the request after being cut $1B by the House. NSF is up 6.5% over
last year, mostly for Information Technology and biocomplexity.
3. MIR: RUSSIA WANTS SHUTTLE TO RETRIEVE "VALUABLE" EQUIPMENT.
The 11.5 tons (yes, NASA used "tons") of stuff, valued at about a
billion dollars by the Russians, would be used on the Russian ISS
modules. Does it seem likely that the US would agree to send a
shuttle to pick up outdated equipment that cost about as much as
a shuttle flight? Meanwhile, a group of US entrepreneurs
proposes to use a 7 kilometer electrodynamic tether to save Mir,
though it's not clear where the electric power would come from.
In the past, attempts to deploy tethered satellites have been a
source of embarrassment for NASA
(WN 11 Mar 94) and
(WN 1 Mar 96).
4. CELLULAR PHONES: 20/20 REVIVES THE BRAIN CANCER CONTROVERSY.
It began in 1993 when a Florida man brought suit against cellular
phone companies after his wife died of brain cancer. "She talked
on the thing all the time and held it against her head," he said
on Larry King Live
(WN 29 Jan 93).
That was the extent of the
evidence and a federal judge threw out the claim two years later
(WN 26 May 95).
Wednesday night, ABC News 20/20, in what Diane
Sawyer called "the report everyone will be talking about," asked
its own experts. They were familiar to anyone who followed the
power-line controversy. The editor of Microwave News, Louis
Slesin, was repeatedly referred to as "Dr. Slesin." Doctor of
what? Reached by phone this morning, he would not say. However,
WN has confirmed that Slesin's PhD is in "Urban Studies and
Planning." We don't know if "everyone is talking about" the
20/20 report, but Nokia, a major cell phone maker mentioned on
the program, went up 8 points on the NY Stock Exchange.