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APS: Star Wars 'A Decade or More Away'

By | May 18, 1987

Editor's Note: On April 23, the American Physical Society released the findings of a special study group on the science and technology of directed energy weapons such as those proposed in the Strategic Defense Initiative. The 424-page report concludes that the technology for these weapon systems would have to improve by factors of 100 to 1 million or more before they would perform acceptably. The following excerpts are taken from the executive summary and first chapter of the report. The Ameri

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Making a Molehill Out of Mount Everest

By | May 18, 1987

When I was growing up, there were perhaps only three facts of geography I knew for sure: the equator was exactly 25,000 miles long, heaven was located just above the Van Allen radiation belt, and Mount Everest was the highest mountain in the world. These were scientific facts of the first order, known to all parochial school children, and inculcated through repetition and regular use of the chart and pointer by Sister Mary Geography. It is a sign of the faithless age in which we live that no o

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The Dahlem Format Deserves Imitation

By | May 18, 1987

A conference at which no one reads a single paper may seem a contradiction in terms. In fact, Dahlem Konferenzen, which this month reach 50 in their unique series of highly successful gatherings in West Berlin, are of exactly that sort. Dahlem conferences generate their prestigious state-of-the-art reports through a sensitively structured five-day program of group discussions and feedback. They contrast starkly with the type of congress at which fragments of worth are lost among a phalanx of pre

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The Nonsense About Frostban

By | May 18, 1987

It sounded like an experiment that was all a molecular biologist could hope for. It had a noble purpose (the protection of nutritionally important fruits and vegetables), it was of great scientific elegance and theoretical interest, and it was perfectly safe. It went like this. Take a common saprophytic bacterium, present in food, water and soil, and remove one of its 200-odd genes. Grow the organism in pure culture, spread it on plants that are harboring the wild type, and PRESTO! the massive

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Follow the Finnish Lead in Peer Review

By | May 4, 1987

I usually feel happier reviewing a grant application from the U.S. National Science Foundation than one sent by the Science and Engineering Council here in Britain, where I am much more likely to know the applicant personally," a biochemist told me recently. A staunch supporter of peer review, he was nevertheless uncomfortably aware of the distortions, unfairness and even abuses that can flaw this time-honored principle of scholarly intercourse. He even suggested that the contemporary problem of

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The Lab Route to a Chemistry Degree

By | May 4, 1987

In his Up Front article "Promoting Undergraduate Science," Eugene Garfield rightly calls for greater participation in research by undergraduates. He points with favor to the British system in which it is common (certainly in chemistry courses) for students in the final year of their three-year degree programs to spend two terms (about 18 weeks) on a small research project. Frequently, when new British chemistry graduates are asked their opinions of the courses they have taken, their project work

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The Physician as Medical Researcher

By | May 4, 1987

Less than a decade ago in this period of flourishing biomedical science, the contribution of physician-scientists to research was progressively declining to the point where the species seemed endangered. Although recent data from the National Institutes of Health suggest a reversal of this trend, the fact that the decline occurred at all has prompted me to think about the singular and perhaps critical role of the physician in research. The very origin of biomedical science owes much to the cont

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This Is Not About Surrogate Mothers

By | May 4, 1987

The tale of the South African grandmother pregnant with her daughter's triplets surfaced in the middle of the Fifth World Congress on In Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer. But it created hardly a ripple among the scientists and clinicians gathered last month in blossom-time Norfolk, Virginia. They included all the big names of IVF as well as many who nurse big-name dreams, and they were intent on taking stock of where they are and where they're going. So intent, in fact, that news from th

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Why So Few Women Bioscientists at the Podium?

By | May 4, 1987

If visual impact correctly represented the position and participation of women in the biosciences, we could all join the Hallelujah Chorus and say the battle for recognition of women has been won and that further efforts could be laid to rest. Yes, it is true that more women have obtained junior staff appointments and that a few have even obtained senior appointments, more so than would have happened 10 years ago. But can one really say that women are hired in proportion to their numbers and acc

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Fonts of Inspiration: From Spider-Man ...

By | April 20, 1987

Every scientist or technical innovator has had an illustrious predecessor who has paved the way and provided inspiration for some stroke of brilliance. Paul Dirac had Niels Bohr, Pasteur had Lavoisier, Sol Snyder had Steve Brodie. And David Hunter has Spider-Man. Actually, David Hunter has Jack Love, a circuit court judge in Albuquerque, N.M., who saw a Spider-Man cartoon on television in 1983 that helped paved the way for another technical advance: electronically monitored home incarceration. I

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